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Top Nissan exec says automaker on track to pass Toyota in Europe by 2016

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Nissan Europe Chairman Trevor Mann is counting on the recently launched second-generation Qashqai and the automaker's forthcoming compact hatchback to help the automaker reclaim the title of top-selling Asian brand in Europe by 2016. Toyota surpassed Nissan for that crown in 1998. Both automakers will face strong competition from Hyundai for the title. Mann discussed some of the keys to reaching that goal in an interview with Automotive News Europe Correspondent Nick Gibbs.

Is it still Nissan's aim to overtake Toyota to become the No. 1 Asian automaker in Europe by 2016?

That's still a goal and that's still the timeframe.

Last year Hyundai brand sold more vehicles than you in Europe for the first time. Is their growth a problem?

When you're in a competitive market there are going to be ebbs and flows. Before the arrival of the Note last year Nissan had not launched a new model in three years, but we were still gaining or holding market share. Now we're starting to get our model onslaught: The Note is selling significantly more volume than its predecessor; we've got the new Qashqai; next year we've got a number of other products. Our trajectory is what we expected.

Mann: No word on whether Nissan will sell hybrids in Europe.

What are your predictions for the overall European market in 2014?

Flat or slight growth is our prediction for this year. The UK has been great, we don't see any signs of that deteriorating this year. Moreover, we are seeing slight upsides in some markets such as France and Spain.

And for Nissan in Europe this year?

Our share was around 3.9 percent to 4 percent last year and we would expect to grow a couple of percentage points above that. For overall volume, we expect to sell more than 750,000 vehicles including Russia.

IHS Automotive predicts that Qashqai sales will be down because you will replace the Qashqai+2 seven-seat model with the new Japanese-built X-Trail. Will that have an impact on your Sunderland, England, factory?

We don't think so. We never really supplied all the Qashqai demand out there. We are projecting next year that the plant will still be very busy and I would be surprised if it wasn't producing the same number of vehicles that it has been over the last two years.

So you expect the Qashqai's annual European sales to be about 200,000 in the years ahead?

A lot depends on the market, but we would be disappointed if we weren't around that figure.

Meet the boss
Name: Trevor Mann
Title: Nissan Chief Performance Officer; Nissan Europe Chairman
Age: 52
Main Challenge: Successfully adding a new model in Europe's competitive compact segment.

Will Nissan's upcoming compact hatchback hit Qashqai sales?

In any segmentation you get that cannibalization. We think Qashqai sales will stay level. That car has defied what's normal. The original annual sales target was 130,000 units. In the first year we made 160,000 units and since then we've been making 300,000 units.

Will the new hatchback use the same CMF modular platform as the Qashqai?

The C-hatch will be a CMF car.

The compact market has the biggest discounts, which hurt the bottom line at automakers. How can you avoid that problem?

You can judge when it's revealed [ahead of the Paris auto show], but obviously we're not going to walk into this blind. We think that we've got a good product. We think there's space for it. If we are to grow in Europe and achieve our Nissan Power 88 plan, which is 8 percent global market share and 8 percent consolidated operating profit, we need to make sure we have good coverage of the key segments.

You've stopped selling the Pixo minicar, which you get from Suzuki. Was it a mistake to bring that in?

It wouldn't say it was a mistake. Any business looks at opportunities and it was obviously a segment we were absent from and we had an opportunity. It has come to the end of its product life. We never say never about a replacement. That market is still healthy.

Toyota is growing partly helped by its hybrids. Is that a path open to you?

Nissan has hybrids in the U.S. and Japan, but we're not in a position to announce whether they will come to Europe. We have electric vehicles.

Electric vehicle sales are low. Where is the EV volume going to come from to beat Toyota?

When you look at when Prius was launched and then zero the date and look at when the Leaf was launched, then you'll see who's doing a better job. I think we're on a better trajectory. The Leaf's volume doubled in 2013. We expect to grow that again.

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You can reach Nick Gibbs at nick.gibbs@btinternet.com.

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