America’s Best Selling Car Is… a Nissan?

2017 Nissan Rogue with Steve Oldham

You’re not imagining it: Today’s roads are filled with Nissans.

Although its perceived dominance pales in comparison to Toyota’s and Honda’s, Nissan has actually crept close to both automakers in its attempt to strengthen its presence in the United States. Through a series of tactics, Nissan managed to crack 10% market share this year—besting Honda in the process.

After capturing 9.7% of the market in January, Nissan improved to 10.2% market share during the month of February and 10.9% in March. In comparison, Honda finished March with 9.1% market share so far this year.

Toyota remains out of reach—for now—with nearly 14% of the market, but Nissan’s feat is nonetheless impressive, especially considering the company owned less than 7% of the market in 2007. So how did Japan’s oft-forgotten major automaker do it?

First, it never hurts to improve the product. Selling a good car is undoubtedly easier than selling a bad car, and the improvements Nissan has made, from the compact Sentra to the Rogue crossover, make things today decidedly more impressive than they were a decade ago. A design intended to draw the Sentra closer in style to the more expensive Altima and Maxima has helped coerce buyers who may have instead purchased a Honda Civic or Toyota Corolla, and a new hybrid version of the Rogue makes Nissan’s best-selling car even more appealing.

And that leads to another critical step to success for Nissan: The company’s foresight allowed it to ramp up production on the Rogue, as the company’s bean counters predicted the market’s swing away from sedans and toward crossovers. While Nissan dealers sold less than 125,000 Rogues in the U.S. in 2011, the company managed to move nearly 330,000 units by the end of 2016, making the Rogue Nissan’s best-selling car.

Finally, Nissan improved its understanding of America’s individual markets by expanding its number of regional offices from 5 to 8, in turn allowing field sales staff the flexibility to focus more carefully on specific locations, rather than stretching them thin over large tracts.

The increase in regions created more expenses for Nissan, as new staff had to be hired, but it also resulted in higher sales figures. With managers now able to focus on smaller regions, attention on customers increased, as measured by J.D. Power’s 2017 U.S. Sales Satisfaction Index (in which Nissan performed better than Honda and Toyota).

Nissan’s plan to crack 10% market share was announced in 2011. Rather than boosting incentives and discounting models, the company established a stronger foundation on which it was able to increase sales. Considering Nissan’s success in the past 6 years, and the success of the Rogue in particular, is it only a matter of time before Nissan takes down Toyota, too?

Will Nissan become America’s best-selling Japanese brand?

-Matt Smith

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