Dealers Blast Nissan CEO, Deliver 'an Hour and a Half of Reality'

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems

Japanese executives traditionally take company failings very personally, often performing penance in the wake of scandals and downturns. In the case of fresh-on-the-job Nissan CEO Makoto Uchida, his punishment for the automaker’s dismal financial situation and tumbling sales was an earful from a group of angry U.S. dealers.

The dealers let Uchida have it during a recent meeting at Nissan’s U.S. headquarters — the first such meeting since Uchida’s elevation to CEO late last year. It’s not like he didn’t ask for it.

According to Automotive News, Uchida specifically asked for brutal honesty from the group of retailers. “I’m here to listen, don’t hold anything back — even if it’s hard for me to hear,” the CEO reportedly told the group.

What followed was an hour-and-a-half rundown of every gripe dealers have with Nissan, ranging from concern over brand image (it’s too low-rent) to weak residual values and untimely product updates. The automaker’s efforts to pull back on incentivization also doesn’t sit well with dealers. They want money to help move product, a change in the automaker’s compensation plan for dealers, as well as more help on the marketing side.

While Nissan continues holding the line on fleet sales and reduced incentivization — an effort aimed at boosting residuals and placing the struggling automaker on a more solid financial footing — it hasn’t done anything for brand sales, especially in the United States. Volume shrunk 9.9 percent in 2019, with sales weighed down by an even worse-performing Infiniti.

As 2019 drew to a close, reports emerged of Nissan scrambling to cut costs wherever savings could be found, including on air travel. A two-day January furlough of U.S. workers only served to highlight the company’s desperation.

One dealer claimed the room demanded more autonomy for the company’s U.S. business, much like Volkswagen of America asked for — and got — from its rigid parent company. As one retailer is quoted as saying, “if you don’t [provide] all the resources today, the check later on is going to be even greater.”

Nor did the dealers like Nissan’s focus on high-tech things. Consumers, they said, want to know what a brand can do for them, and U.S. advertising should reflect this. “Our technology message is getting lost in translation,” is a comment one source recalls. “Self-driving cars may be great in Japan or different parts of the world, but [in the U.S.], people are not responding to it.”

While Uchida reportedly told dealers he has “a plan” to fix Nissan’s ills, without divulging much more than that, the group gave the CEO credit for showing up and taking the heat. The situation is the inverse of when Carlos Ghosn headed the company.

“No one in the room ever dared tell Carlos Ghosn what he didn’t want to hear,” one dealer said.

[Image: Nissan]

Steph Willems
Steph Willems

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  • Inside Looking Out Inside Looking Out on Jan 21, 2020

    My solution to Nissan problems: 1. Get rid of Carlos Ghosn - Done. 2. Drop Nissan brand and keep Infiniti only. 3a. Rename Nissan to Infiniti. 3b. Or rename Nissan to Pontiac and then shut it down few years later. 3. Merge with PSA-FCA. 4. Replace CVTs with DCTs.

  • Speedlaw Speedlaw on Jan 28, 2020

    Nissan is a cheaply built car, clearly cost cut everywhere. Think low quality food, but Super Sized ! In my area, it is usually the Rogue, poorly driven, blocking the left lane. The only worse offenders are older women in Subarus.

  • Socrates77 They're pinching pennies for the investors like always, greed has turned GM into a joke of an old corporate American greed.
  • Analoggrotto looking at this takes me right back to the year when “CD-ROM” first entered public lexicon
  • Alan My comment just went into the cloud.I do believe its up to the workers and I also see some simplistic comments against unionisation. Most of these are driven by fear and insecurity, an atypical conservative trait.The US for a so called modern and wealthy country has poor industrial relation practices with little protection for the worker, so maybe unionisation will advance the US to a genuine modern nation that looks after its workers well being, standard of living, health and education.Determining pay is measured using skill level, training level and risk associated with the job. So, you can have a low skilled job with high risk and receive a good pay, or have a job with lots of training and the pay is so-so.Another issue is viability of a business. If you have a hot dog stall and want $5 a dog and people only want to pay $4 you will go broke. This is why imported vehicles are important so people can buy more affordable appliances to drive to and from work.Setting up a union is easier than setting up work conditions and pay.
  • El scotto I can get the speedometer from dad's 72 Ford truck back. I can't get dad back.
  • El scotto BAH! No dividers in the trunk for bags of onions or hooks for hanging sardines! Hard Pass.