NASHVILLE, Tenn. – During a visit to Nissan Motor Company's Tennessee-based North American headquarters in early January, Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn talked about the opportunities ahead for the U.S. market. He commented on the evolving future of electric vehicles and autonomous drive, and he shared his thoughts on how the Nissan team in the U.S. can best take advantage of steady and continued growth in the market.
Q1: At the end of 2013, and the beginning of a new year, can you comment on Nissan's performance last year globally, and then for the North American market?
CEO Ghosn: I think 2013 has been a year of growth without any doubt, globally, and also at the level of North America. I would say particularly in the North American market, it is a growth, which has taken place within our strategy where we have been investing a lot in terms of product and technology and also in terms of capacity. That is why this growth in a certain way did not translate immediately in 2013 with a kind of similar increase of profitability. So it was a very good year in terms of growth, profit a little bit backtracked, but without any doubt in the years to come, when all the capacities and the products in which we have been investing will come to the market, there will be catch up.
Q2: Starting in 2014, the company moved from a three-region structure to six. Would you comment about that and how you see that propelling the company forward?
Ghosn: You know, our regions are becoming very big. The company has changed. At the beginning of our midterm plan we were selling a little bit more than 3.5 million cars annually. Now this year we are going to be at 5.2 million cars; we are moving towards 6 million cars. The company has grown a lot, so we need for the people in our top management team to focus on regions with a more reasonable size. That is why we moved from three regions to six. Obviously, this organization by itself is not going to change anything. But the fact that we are able to generate six regional heads, versus three before, who are talented enough, capable enough, and have a lot of experience to help the execution of our growth plan and results is a very good thing for Nissan today and for the future.
Q3: The company has stepped out in a leadership role on two important topics: electrification of vehicles and autonomous driving. What might we expect in those areas in the coming years?
Ghosn: The number of electric cars sold in the world is going to go up, without any doubt. Obviously the sales of the LEAF will continue to grow in the U.S. and outside the U.S. There will be a lot of newcomers to electric cars, so I think that with the development of the charging infrastructure, you are going to see a pick up – a gradual pick up in the sales of electric cars. I have no doubt on the fact that electric cars are here to stay. They are going to represent the major element of the car industry. The only thing, which is unknown, is at what speed it will take place. Autonomous vehicles, or self-driving vehicles, also are an important part of the future. We are investing a lot and we will be mass marketing this product in 2020 at least in selected markets. We believe a lot in the potential of this technology, and I believe many carmakers will come practically at the same moment with their own offer.
Q4: Turning our attention to the North American market in 2014, where are the big opportunities?
Ghosn: I think 2014 without any doubt will be a year of growth for North America, particularly the United States. We may not see the kind of growth that we have seen for the last three years. We may move from 15.6 million (vehicle sales annually) to probably something around 16 million next year. I think the growth will continue in the large pickup truck. I think the growth will continue into the crossover, and also into the compact cars.
Q5: Specifically, again for North America, what does the team need to get exactly right this year?
Ghosn: We need to focus a lot on improving the overall opinion on important products that Nissan is selling like the Altima, the Sentra, the Rogue, the Pathfinder, the Versa. We need to continue to boost the industrial performance, which means the quality of the cars that we are bringing to the market and the cross competitiveness of the cars we are bringing to the market. We need to really do everything we can to benefit from this increase that we are having in the United States to come at the top level of competitiveness.
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