When Nissan's Jose Munoz surveys the U.S. auto market, he sees lots of potential. He sees a market that is once again expanding and can deliver strong growth in the coming years.
As the new senior vice president of sales and marketing for North and South America, Munoz has the job of making sure Nissan captures as much of that growth as possible. With new car sales declining for all automakers in Europe because of the debt crisis, grabbing a greater share in the U.S. market is critical.
"A few months ago, a lot of people were saying the U.S. market is always having these cycles and that now we're about to start a declining cycle," said Munoz, who is from Spain. "Now what I see in the U.S. is a very strong pace, an affirmation. You now see all the manufacturers focusing their attention in the U.S., where they see opportunities to grow."
Munoz started his new role on April 1 and is already making a splash. Nissan announced earlier this month it is cutting prices on seven of its models to better compete with similar models from rivals. Munoz also lured away Fred Diaz, president and CEO of Ram Truck Brand, to become Nissan's divisional vice president of sales and marketing for the U.S.
The Japanese automaker has an ambitious goal of 10 percent market share in the U.S. (Nissan's current share is 7.3 percent) by fiscal year 2016. To reach that goal, Munoz is looking at such growing demographics as Hispanics to help propel U.S. sales.
Prior to moving into the top marketing role, the 48-year-old Munoz was president of Nissan Mexicana. That company had the highest market share in Nissan's history, and was the top-selling brand for 42 months straight. It's this magic Nissan hopes he can bring to increase sales.
The Nissan Altima, Sentra and Rogue are among the 12 most popular cars purchased by Hispanics, Munoz said. The company's research shows that Hispanics, on average, buy more cars than any other demographic.
"Nissan is doing a better job with Hispanics in general terms than with the rest of the market," he said. "But we still see other manufacturers who do an even better job."
Munoz said Nissan will continue to target potential car buyers through traditional television and print advertising. But he also plans to increase Nissan's social media efforts and Internet advertising, specifically mobile devices. "The utilization of mobile devices among the Hispanic population is higher than that of the general population," he said.
Although it's way too early to know if the efforts will be successful, sales for the Nissan and Infiniti brands rose 23 percent in April, the highest of any major car manufacturer. Nissan launched five models during the past year, including redesigns of the Altima and Sentra, which Munoz is confident will help Nissan grab an even greater market share with Hispanics.
"Bottom line, we have a very good opportunity to grow, very good room for improvement," Munoz said. "We know what these consumers want. They want quality, they want durability ... competitive prices, and that's the definition of Nissan."
With the hiring of Diaz away from Ram, Nissan is going to make a greater push in the full-size truck market with its Titan. Munoz calls it "a key priority" as well as increasing sales of other models such as the Pathfinder.
"Having Fred on the team, he's one of the most experienced full-size truck guys in the industry," Munoz said. "We believe Fred is going to be a huge contributor to that, and we want to develop that program."
Munoz acknowledges he is still learning about the U.S. auto market, but says the strong sales and marketing team at Nissan's North America headquarters in Nashville, Tenn., has allowed him to make a seamless transition in taking over for Brian Carolin, the sales and marketing vice president who retired at the end of March.
Munoz, who sleeps just four to five hours a night, says he feels pressure in his new post and from the lofty expectations set by the corporate headquarters in Yokohama, Japan.
"One way to deal with (the pressure) is not to think about it, and deliver results," Munoz said with a laugh. "One of the keys is the support from my family. They know I'm in a competition, like being an athlete. You want to win, you're not here to maintain. Representing your brand is like representing your country in the Olympic Games."
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