Racing past the competition

Is Nissan's aggressive strategy making other carmakers nervous?

Nissan has been quickly gaining market share, building manufacturing capacity, and growing sales. Other automakers, particularly Honda, might be getting nervous.
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In the United States, automotive sales are measured monthly and annually, with most automakers seeming to care little about who's "in the lead" overall, but fighting vigorously for contented shares of specific markets and segments. Among Japanese automakers, this is especially true, with Toyota holding the top space overall and Honda bringing up second.

One of the key goals issued by Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn was to see Nissan North America overtake Honda for that second spot. Internal rumor at Nissan is that he's very unhappy that it hasn't happened yet, though the numbers are getting very close - to within half a share point. Although nothing has been publicly said, Ghosn has been prodding executives here in the U.S. and asking why that small margin wasn't predicted and overcome before the half-year was up. You can fully expect to see Nissan taking Honda's spot by the end of the year.

Why? Because for Ghosn, clear goal-setting is key to getting where he wants the Renault-Nissan Alliance to be; and he's not afraid to step on toes, give executives the ax, or shake things up to get there. Anyone who's paid even the slightest attention to goings-on at Nissan in the past two or three years has seen this clearly. His recruitment and appointment of Fred Diaz, formerly a rising star at Chrysler's Ram Truck division, to head sales and marketing in the U.S. as well as Ghosn's quick-witted promotion of Jose Munoz from head of Mexican operations to lead the U.S. is further proof. Both are as hard core as Ghosn himself and have been instrumental in pushing U.S. sales ahead.

The trio's aggressive attitude towards hacking further shares of the American market for Nissan has recently been seen in the sudden changes made to the Nissan lineup overall. A lot of trimming took place, including the dropping of the Cube along with several niche and little-selling models such as the Altima coupe and Murano convertible.

Nissan's advantage over many rivals is that it's a full-line manufacturer whose sales figures are based on a broad number of models which move well. Honda, on the other hand, sees most of its sales in only a handful of models, as do rivals such as Fiat-Chrysler. Globally, Nissan holds about 6.2 percent of the automotive market, putting it a full percentage point above Honda and giving it about half of Toyota's lion's share of the global market. With Renault included, that gap with Toyota narrows considerably.

Going forward, we can expect Nissan to overtake Honda in U.S. market share - likely this year - though competition from other automakers, such as Toyota and Chrysler, may dampen any jubilation Ghosn may gain from that milestone. Nissan's apparent plans to aggressively promote the Titan upon its next-generation unveil in Detroit come January signals that the fast-growing automaker plans to target Chrysler next, who's weak in the small and midsize car departments (in terms of sales). Coupled with the already-aggressive commercial vehicle push Nissan has made, a full-sized pickup truck that can begin digging at that contentious and hard-to-enter market would definitely push Nissan forward, and fast.


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