TOKYO -- In CEO Carlos Ghosn's last big business plan for Nissan Motor Co., quality had a major role. In the new plan announced last week, it has a smaller role-- even though the brand's quality problems are far from solved.
Two major studies by J.D. Power and Associates show Nissan quality has improved marginally since Ghosn's GT 2012 business plan of 2008. But in both studies Nissan continues to creep along below the industry average -- with lower rankings than in 2008 because rivals have improved more rapidly.
And last week's plan, Power 88, could put additional strain on quality: It speaks ambitiously of grabbing 8 percent of global market share by the spring of 2017, up from 5.8 percent now, while introducing new models and technology at a faster pace.
In Power's 2011 Initial Quality Study released in June, Nissan slid to No. 24, down from 12 last year and 19 in 2008. That study measures owner complaints during the first 90 days of ownership.
In Power's U.S. Vehicle Dependability Study, which measures problems experienced during the past 12 months by original owners of 3-year-old vehicles, Nissan was No. 25, unchanged from last year and down from No. 18 in 2008.
As Ghosn launches a push to capture 8 percent of the global auto market, Toyota looms as a cautionary tale. Its massive recall troubles in 2009-10 were linked to the ambitious growth it pursued after former President Fujio Cho set a target of 15 percent global share. Quality couldn't keep pace with expansion.
Ghosn concedes Nissan isn't where he wants it to be. "We have had a lot of improvements, but we still have a lot of potential to improve," he said last week after unveiling the Power 88 plan. "We have discrepancies, and we need to continue to improve."
Ghosn's 8 percent global market share goal is the key target of a broad plan with detailed numerical objectives. To name a few:
-- Deliver one new vehicle every six weeks, on average.
-- Introduce 90 new technologies, averaging 15 a year.
-- Sell 1.5 million electric vehicles.
-- Capture 10 percent of the market in China, up from 6.2 percent.
-- Expand the Infiniti lineup to 10 models, from seven.
-- Reduce costs 5 percent each year.
Quality, while still one of the Power 88's six pillars, was relegated to only glancing mention in Ghosn's presentation. This time the quality objectives were vague: rank among the top group of global automakers and elevate to leadership among peer brands.
Compare that with the six objectives of "GT 2012 -- Quality Leadership":
-- Halve warranty claim rates for the first three months after delivery.
-- Halve supplier parts defects.
-- Halve breakdown ratio -- defined as a malfunction serious enough to persuade the driver to stop and call for road service assistance -- compared with fiscal 2007.
-- Halve lead time from occurrence of defect to preparation of new parts.
-- Double the number of regions in which sales satisfaction and customer service rankings are top tier.
-- Double the number of models rated high in perceived quality by internal and external survey.
And how did Nissan do? The company has been quiet on these goals since abandoning GT 2012 amid the global financial crisis.
Spokesman Mitsuru Yonekawa said Nissan is not ready to specify how well it did in meeting the 2008 quality objectives. But he said a press event on the subject of quality likely will be held this month in Japan.