LOS ANGELES - Nissan has scaled back its ambition to sell 900,000 cars a year in the USA by 2000. Instead, the company will sell 650,000-750,000 units a year there until about 2003, said Minoru Nakamura, head of Nissan Motor Corp. operations in North America.
He said the target cannot be achieved with current models.
The next-generation Sentra, Altima and Maxima would be in production by 2003, along with a new, small sport-utility, he said. With those cars, he said, Nissan can reach its sales goal.
'We need more sensitive sensors as to what our next products are going to be,' Nakamura said. 'It is important to listen to the market's voice, but we must also have a foresight, a sixth sense, particularly in styling and design. You can't get that creativity from a marketing database.'
Nissan Division sales slipped 4.5 percent in 1997 to 662,825 units, and are down another 27.8 percent this year so far.
Despite his injection of cold realism into Nissan's strategic thinking, Nakamura said he still believes the company belongs in the No. 2 slot behind Toyota in America and ahead of Honda.
Nakamura credits Honda for finding new niche markets to exploit, such as with the CR-V, that Nissan failed to see.
Nakamura has placed sizable responsibility on Nissan Design International President Jerry Hirshberg to come up with vehicle styling that will fit the brand promise.
'I've told Jerry several times already, 1/8It's up to you to reach 900,000,'' Nakamura said.
Nakamura said Nissan styling will not be aggressive in segments accustomed to mainstream styling. But sport-utility styling can be radical, he said.
Nissan estimates that it lost $55 million in the USA in the year ended 31 March. Standard & Poor's has downgraded Nissan's debt rating to one notch above junk status.
Nakamura wants Nissan to stand for good value, not merely a cheap price. As for what attributes Nissan vehicles should have, Nakamura used only one adjective: sporty.
'It's the driving performance, suspension and total balance that give a car that sporty feeling, and Nissan cars have that compared to the competitors,' he said.