Pronounced near-dead in 1999, Nissan has made a remarkable, but often unnoticed turn-around ever since. With little fanfare, the Yokohama company passed Honda as Japan’s second largest auto maker. In China, the land of car growth, Nissan sold 1.3 million cars last year, became largest Japanese brand and has expansion plans for 2.3 million. Nissan is also the company that recovered fastest from the March 11 tsunami. With only 25 percent of its world output in Japan, Nissan had less exposure that Honda, and especially Toyota. It also was lucky: Nissan could duck the chip shortage that hit Toyota and Honda with full force. Nissan’s engine factory in Iwaki is 60 miles away from Fukushima. A little closer, and it would still be closed. Instead, it was back up and running two months after the disaster. One of the most horrific years for Japan and the Japanese auto industry is shaping up to be the defining year for Nissan. Nissan’s biggest problem: Not enough cars.
“At the moment, we’ve only got one problem – making enough cars. I’ve got back orders for 30,000 cars in Mexico, 20,000 in Latin America. In Europe, even though they’re working seven days a week with shifts, I’ve got orders going back for two months on Qashqai.”
This is what Nissan Chief Performance Officer and Executive Vice President Colin Dodge today said in an interview in Yokohama. In Mexico, the soft underbelly of the U.S., Nissan holds on to an amazing market share of 26.4 percent. Most of the growth of Nissan comes from emerging markets, and Nissan hasn’t even covered all the BRIC markets yet. In China, Nissan is strong. In Russia, Brazil and India, Nissan has “just started,” as Dodge admits.
By the end of this calendar year, both Toyota and Honda will have produced significantly fewer cars than in 2010. Nissan on the other hand already produced 150,000 cars more than in 2010. Says Dodge:
“We’ve recovered from the earthquake as a company, it seems like, about two months quicker than Toyota, and Honda is still not recovered.”
Dodge’s boss, Carlos Ghosn, has another problem: The obscenely high yen. A chief of production doesn’t have his eyes on exchange rates:
“The yen, of course, is unfortunate. However, we’re doing our best to mitigate the effects of the yen. We’re praying for the Japanese government to do something in terms of quantitative easing. If not, it’s looking pretty dark, obviously, but I wouldn’t be depressed for the next six to eight weeks. Let’s make some cars, and sell the cars in the system.”