AutoTalk.com was given a chance to speak with Brian Carolin, the senior vice president of sales and marketing for Nissan North America during the 2012 NYIAS. The conversation with Brian was very enlightening and included many fun nuggets of information including the possibilty of new SE-R Sentra. We were also able to provide Brian and his team with a valuable business proposition. To read all this more, check out the full transcription of the interview below.
AutoTalk: Good afternoon Brian. A busy day for you it seems.
Brian: Indeed it has been, but it is a good type of busy.
AutoTalk: Well lets begin, then. The Altima was just revealed. This is a big vehicle for your company. What plans do you have for the vehicle in the future? In the past there have been performance variants of the Altima, such as the SE-R. Do you plan on moving forward with any sort of performance variant with this new generation of Altima?
Brian: No, we don’t. Our great line-up is going to remain pretty much the same as it is today, with largely carry-over pricing, but with a lot more value-added content and features. The car is going to be very competitive, but it is sort of a mainstream bread and butter segment for us. We do expect to increase share, I know our CEO said yesterday, ‘I see no reason why we cannot challenge number one’. We are already outselling the Accord, and we are definitely going to look to increase our volume and our market share.
AutoTalk: Yesterday it was announced that you will have five all-new vehicle coming in before the year-end, one of which is the new Sentra. How big of a car is this going to be for Nissan? Altima is the best-seller, but with gas prices increasing buyers are trending down towards smaller cars. Do you expect this to be a very good car to seize market share with?
Brian: Well even an Altima, we are going to have 38 MPG. On a mid-size sedan that’s pretty extraordinary, best in class. I think Camry is 35 at the moment, highway, so we are going to have a compelling message. So that’s great, but definitely Sentra, that is a segment where, frankly, we have under-performed as a brand. We believe this next generation Sentra is going to really hit the mark. That is where we are going to get the biggest show in improvement is with that vehicle, simply because we under-perform today. We average about a five-percent segment market share, yet the brand in total we did an 8.2 record last year. We are hitting about a ten-percent share of the D-segment with Altima, so there is a lot of upside, and to your point, it is going to have a great fuel economy message as well. The package itself, and you’ll hear more about it in the coming moths, but, well, we are very confident that is going to give us a nice bump.
AutoTalk: The Sentra has always been a small yet slightly performance oriented model, especially with models like the SE-R. It was a great way for people who are interested in driving to approach that. Are you guys going to try to pursue something like that again with the Sentra?
Brian: We will in that segment, yes we will. If you look at the way with our Versa sedan, we dominate that segment. We just launched the Versa sedan last year and its a great great car. So we are going to have a very nice three sedan lineup. We are going to have the Versa sedan, the Sentra and of course the Altima. So the Sentra is going to come out towards the end of this year, so by then I think we are going to be in a really good place.
AutoTalk: Nissan does have a massive presence in Tennessee. How does having such a strong foothold in the Unites States help your business case, and help to attract customers?
Brian: From all the research we have done, I don’t think consumers pay too much attention to where cars are made, but they are very interested in the kind of corporate presence and employment investment. I think the fact that we have a really big factory now in Smyrna (TN) and another one in Mississippi, we have the Decherd Engine Plant in Tennessee as well, and I think the fact that we are now a big employer really does resonate well with the public. I think that is how people interpret car companies. It’s not ‘where is the Versa made?’, but the fact that Nissan is making a big contribution to employment, and I feel that helps build trust and confidence in the brand.
AutoTalk: Another big vehicle Nissan this year is the Taxi of Tomorrow. How much time and effort went into making that vehicle as good as it could be for the Taxi industry?
Brian: Huge. You would not believe. A lot of support from our engineering teams in Japan, but also from our design studio on the West coast. These guys took apart Crown Victorias to see what was breaking, and it is very important to make sure the durability and quality of the car is there. But we were also looking at some clever design features. We are going to improve the comfort and convenience for all passengers. So things like the huge glass roof, the New York Taxi Commissioner was very keen on making sure that passengers could enjoy the New York skyline, for example. But there are lots of things, like the ability to recharge your cellphone. Convenience features like knee space. There is no transmission tunnel like on the Crown Vic so we have enhanced ease of access. Another big element is we also have special access for disabled people as well. Simple things like the sliding doors; apparently there are a ton of accidents in New York with the doors opening into traffic, or hitting pedestrians and cyclists. So a lot of thought went into the design o f the vehicle, there are some great stories there.
AutoTalk: Do you guys plan on trying to take that project, and the things that you learned from that, and create a niche market vehicle for people who may be disabled drivers and the like? Possibly put that out into the market?
Brian: We haven’t at the moment, no, but that is an interesting thought.
AutoTalk: Well, you are welcome, I guess.
Brian: Yeah, you should licence that. What we are doing is, we are approaching other cities. Boston, Chicago, and we are seeing if they are interested in having the same type of vehicle. London as well, so not just in the US.
AutoTalk: Thank you for taking the time to meet with me, I really appreciate it.
Brian: Of course, Thank you.
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