Raw Japan

Slices of Japanese business, politics and life

Wanted: a hit Nissan product

May 12, 2009


Toyota is drowning in losses. Fiat is desperately seeking partners. Chrysler is bankrupt, and General Motors looks like it might be next.

In this environment, Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn can’t be blamed for warning today of a second straight year of loss. Still, there’s no denying that Japan’s third-biggest automaker could be doing better if it weren’t missing one key ingredient: home-run products.

Data released yesterday offered a sobering reminder of that.

Last month, Nissan’s name disappeared from the list of Japan’s 10 best-selling cars as Honda’s new Insight hybrid snatched up fuel-conscious consumers in an ever-shrinking pie. The month before, Nissan had two models on the list — the Serena minivan and Note compact, ranked fifth and eighth. Now, the Serena has dropped seven places, behind, even, cars from smaller rivals Suzuki and Mazda.

Things are not much better in the United States, Nissan’s single-biggest market. Among passenger cars, its Altima ranks fifth. It’s above any offering from Detroit, but that’s little consolation when Toyota and Honda each have two cars outselling the Altima by miles.

Having hit products is crucial on many levels. For one, the big sales volume lowers per-unit manufacturing and marketing costs, making each car more profitable. Popular cars also help to boost the brand’s image, and can drive sales of other models too.

Automakers sometimes try to use image-lifting “halo” cars to attrAUTOSHOW/act customers to their mass-volume products, but the trick doesn’t always work: Although Nissan’s iconic GT-R muscle car has a passionate following, it hasn’t done much for overall sales.

With a lacklustre product line-up so far, a lot will rest on the new “global entry car” due out next year. Even more important, perhaps, may be the much-hyped electric car, to be rolled out en masse from 2012. Nissan is putting a lot of faith in the zero-emission strategy. If it’s successful, Nissan could finally gain a chance to share the “green” limelight with hybrid leaders Toyota and Honda. If it flops, well, it could very well be a strike-out for Mr Ghosn.

Photo credits: REUTERS/Kim Kyung Hoon


Nissan would have been in a better position if they had put more money into the development of a hybrid car, a look at the best-seller list shows that the hybrid cars are doing pretty well.


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