PAUL MCVEIGH

Nissan now wants to be No. 1 Asian brand in Europe

Paul McVeigh is managing editor at Automotive News Europe.Paul McVeigh is managing editor at Automotive News Europe.
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Nissan said it aimed to become the top-selling Japanese brand in Europe at last year's Geneva auto show, which would mean passing the current No. 1 Toyota. This year, Nissan changed its goal, saying it wants to be the region's No. 1 Asian brand.

Why the change? Well, it's no longer about beating Japanese rival Toyota, whose European sales are tumbling. All eyes are now on a surging Hyundai-Kia.

Paul Willcox, Nissan Europe's head of sales and marketing, said the Korean brands are strong competitors. "If we want to be seen as leaders, it makes sense to have them in the mix," he said at the Geneva show.

Korean rivals are relaxed about being in Nissan's sights. "The fight for car sales is a global war," Thomas Oh, Kia's chief operating officer, told me. "We are confident that our three pillars -- product, marketing and our dealer network -- are strong in Europe."

Nissan aims to be Europe's No. 1 Asian brand by 2013 or 2014, Willcox said.

How are the brands doing?

Toyota, starved of new product, is still sliding in Europe while Hyundai, boosted by new cars such as the i30 compact, and Kia, helped by a new Rio subcompact, are going strong.

Sales of Toyota brand cars fell 12 percent in January to 44,351 in the EU and EFTA countries, according to industry association ACEA.

Nissan sales rose 1 percent to 35,792. Hyundai's volume was up 17 percent to 33,204 and Kia saw sales rise 31 percent to 22,061.

European automakers are suffering flat or falling sales in their home region but Asian brands still have a long way to go to catch up.

Volkswagen brand, the region's top seller, had sales of 128,993 last month, which were flat compared with January 2011. PSA, Europe's No. 2, saw sales fall 15 percent to 124,240 for the Peugeot and Citroen brands.

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