As Nissan Holds the Line on Spending, U.S. Sales Hit a Five-year Low

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems

It was an all-around bad year for Nissan, both globally and in the United States. Turmoil and triage was the order of the day, as the automaker was rocked by the arrest and ouster of its former chairman, an escape artist known as Carlos Ghosn, as well as bad blood and intrigue among members of the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance.

Cooling auto sales in most developed markets further hurt the brand’s profitability, even as the automaker strove to reverse its incentive-fueled market share push in favor of a sustainable path forward. That path is proving rocky, despite Nissan’s willingness to stay the course.

The brand’s 2019 U.S. sales are horrendous.

Horrendous, but expected. As the automaker seeks to firm up its financial footing via reduced incentive spending and fleet sales ( reduced expenditures on almost everything are the norm now), Nissan Group volume fell 29.5 percent in December, year over year. Through all of 2019, the automaker’s sales declined 9.9 percent.

Regardless of brand, December was not a month to remember at the automaker. Sales of Nissan-brand vehicles fell 28.4 percent last month, with the Infiniti badge dropping 37.8 percent. Through all twelve months of last year, Nissan declined 8.7 percent, with Infiniti faring far worse with a 21.1 percent drop.

It’s no wonder the automaker announced a brief January furlough of its U.S. employees, with reports claiming the company ordered an immediate cancellation of non-essential travel and expenditures.

The Nissan division’s 1,227,973 U.S. sales last year ranks lower than any of the previous five years. 2017 was the brand’s high water mark in the country. Infiniti moved 117,708 vehicles — just a handful of units ahead of its 2014 tally, and well behind its annual volume from 2003 to 2007.

At the same time, Nissan went on a product tear in 2019, introducing a refreshed (and pared-down) line of Titan and Titan XD pickups, a new Sentra compact, and a new Versa subcompact, now sans hatchback variant. The Sentra line was simplified for 2020, offered with a single engine and transmission choice. Like the new Altima that bowed for 2019, the latest Nissan passenger cars wear a strikingly similar corporate face.

With fewer build configurations but greater content on hand, Nissan hopes the new vehicles attract a stable flow of retail buyers. Before, you were just as likely to see a Nissan car parked in a rental lot as you were in a driveway.

So, were there any winners in the Nissan stable? A few. The Altima, which donned an optional 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder and all-wheel drive for 2019, bested its 2018 standing by 47 vehicles. The cheap and cheerful front-drive Kicks that bowed in June 2018 obviously topped last year’s full-year tally, though recent months saw the subcompact CUV fall behind on a year-over-year basis. December’s Kicks sales showed a 27.7 percent decline.

The midsize Pathfinder and full-size Armada maintained a steady flow of customers last year, sinking only 2.8 and 1.9 percent, respectively. Good news for two high-margin vehicles. The same can’t be said for the popular compact Rogue, which declined 15 percent in 2019.

In the hard-done-by Infiniti stable, only the top-flight QX80 came close to breaking even, sinking just 0.5 percent for the year. The brand’s recently revamped QX50 compact crossover remains a cautionary tale, showing that a newly improved vehicle in a hot segment is not a guarantee of success. The QX50 dropped more than 45 percent in December, with its full-year sales falling 26.7 percent.

New Year’s probably elicited a few mumbles of “Thank God that’s over” from Nissan execs.

[Images: Nissan]

Steph Willems
Steph Willems

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  • Here4aSammich Here4aSammich on Jan 06, 2020

    I'm confused.... "As the automaker seeks to firm up its financial footing via reduced incentive spending and fleet sales" Reduced incentive spending I get, but more or fewer fleet sales? Words mean things. Based upon my own weekly observations at the Emerald Aisle, National seems to be buying every Altima they can get their hands on.

  • Akear Akear on Jan 11, 2020

    I would be thrilled if GM could produce vehicles as good as the Altima, Leaf, and new Sentra. What a disgrace!

  • 3-On-The-Tree Lou_BCsame here I grew up on 2-stroke dirt bikes had a 1985 Yamaha IT200 2-strokes then a 1977 Suzuki GT750 2-stroke 750 streetike fast forward to 2002 as a young flight school Lieutenant I bought a 2002 suzuki Hayabusa 1300 up in Huntsville Alabama. Still have that bike.
  • Milton Rented one for about a month. Very solid EV. Not as fun as my Polestar, but for a go to family car, solid. Practical EV ownership is only made possible with a home charger.
  • J Love mine, but the steering wheel blocks dashboard a bit, can't see turn signals nor headlights icons. They could use the upper corners of the screen for the turn signals. Mileage is much lower than shown too, disappointing
  • Aja8888 NO!
  • OrpheusSail I once did. My first four cars were American made, and through an odd set of circumstances surrounding a divorce, I wound up with a '95 Nissan Maxima which was fourteen years old and had about 150,000 miles on it.It was drove better, had an amazing engine, and was more reliable than any of my American cars. This included a new '95 GMC pickup that went through five alternators in under two years while the dealership insisted that there was no underlying electrical problem while they tried to run the clock on the warranty.That was the end of 'buy American'. I've bought from Honda and VW since, and I'll consider just about anything except American now.