Nissan's top executive in Europe sticks to tough target
Dodge reconfirms goal of passing Toyota as region's No. 1 Asian brand
Nissan's Colin Dodge: "Previously, Nissan wasn't big enough or tough enough to be competitive in the [compact] segment. Now we are."
Nissan aims to pass Toyota as the top-selling Asian brand in Europe by 2016. Colin Dodge, who heads Nissan's European operations, is sticking to this goal despite the region's economic slump. Dodge sees the brand's new compact hatchback, due in 2014, and expansion in Russia as key growth areas for the company. He spoke with Automotive News Europe UK Correspondent Nick Gibbs
Are you still on course to become the No. 1 Asian manufacturer in Europe?
We are knocking on the door every day and we are sticking to our plan. Our factories are working at maximum capacity.
Europe's downturn has hit Nissan less than other automakers. Why?
We are not as big as our European rivals but we are agile. The mainstream cars we sell in Europe were developed in Europe and are built in the region. Local content is 95 percent so we don't have a big yen exposure. Also, Renault supplies us manual transmissions and diesel engines that are built in the euro zone. Japanese automakers are not strong on manual transmission so we have an edge against other Japanese companies.
How long will it take for the Europe market to recover?
In my opinion, several years.
Nissan plans to launch a UK-built compact hatchback in Europe in 2014. The Almera compact was dropped here due to slow sales. What has changed?
It would be difficult to become the No. 1 Asian brand in Europe without a compact hatchback. Compacts make up 20 percent of the total European market, so it would be careless to remain absent from this segment. The Almera was a flop so we stepped out and created a new segment with the Qashqai and everybody had to follow us. But the leader of the pack is still the VW Golf. It's a massive segment.
How will your compact compete with the VW Golf and new premium entries such as the Mercedes-Benz A class?
Our car is a great car. I have seen it. It's very attractive, fuel consumption is very competitive and the cost is very good too. There's a lot of technology inside that consumers will like. It will have 95 percent local content. We will make money. Previously, Nissan wasn't big enough or tough enough to be competitive in the segment. Now we are. Our cost base is very good.
How many compacts will you sell?
We will not have ambitious annual volume targets. It will be between 80,000 and 100,000.
What are your plans for Russia?
Russia is very important to us. We will double our presence in the country by 2016. The currency is strong and it could be a very lucrative market. We will sell 170,000 units this year, of which are 10,000 are Infiniti models. Some 50,000 are made locally and the rest are imported, mainly from the UK. Our mid-term annual volume goal is near 400,000. We will build smaller cars at the factory of our Russian partner, AvtoVAZ, not just Datsuns but the new Nissan Almera too.
What challenges do you face in Russia?
The big challenge is that there is no supply base. We have an aggressive localization plan and the suppliers are beginning to come to Russia because they see the volumes will be enormous and it would be a big mistake not to be there.
Nissan plans to relaunch the Datsun brand in 2014. What platform will you use for Datsun cars?
The Datsuns will be built off the new Lada Kalina platform, a Nissan/AvtoVAZ platform. They will not look like Ladas. The upper body and interior will be completely different, but the platform is a module -- the fuel system, braking system, steering system are all common.
Are you happy with sales of the Nissan Leaf electric car?
We have sold 37,000 Leafs globally since the car's launch. Leaf sales are slower than we had expected but we have found that the Leaf sells well where the infrastructure [charging points] is strong. For example, sales in Norway are unbelievable. The Leaf was the No. 1-selling Nissan car in the country a couple of months ago.
How important is a good infrastructure for EV sales?
Infrastructure definitely calms range anxiety.
Is infrastructure more important than government incentives?
Very much so.
Is the Leaf profitable?
No, not at all. You never do on new technology. Obviously, we put a lot of money in it and it's going to take a while to get it all back. We are not off track.
You can reach Nick Gibbs at email@example.com.