When Fred Diaz announced he was leaving Chrysler Group for Nissan North America in April, it took some in the industry by surprise.
After all, Mr. Diaz had started his 24-year automotive career with Chrysler and rose up the ranks to become the CEO of the Ram Truck unit and lead the companys Mexico operations. So his move to Franklin, Tenn., to join Nissan was unexpected, but the change has been invigorating for the executive.
I like the leadership, I like what Nissan stands for, said the 47-year-old Mr. Diaz. More importantly, I like where Nissan is going in the future and I'm happy to be part of it.
At Nissan, Mr. Diaz is the divisional vice president of sales and marketing as well as service and parts. Mr. Diaz jokes that hes added jobs from his days at Chrysler, where he would spend half the month in Detroit and the remaining time in Mexico.
Mr. Diaz joined the Japanese automaker at a time when its president and CEO, Carlos Ghosn, has laid out an aggressive plan to increase Nissans U.S. market share to 10 percent by 2016, from 7.6 percent in September. Nissan, like the other automakers, have been enjoying strong sales after the economic meltdown in 2008 and 2009.
When asked why the automotive industry has rebounded so well, Mr. Diaz points to an improving economy and says consumers are feeling better about their economic situation. Automakers have learned from past mistakes that include building too many cars and trucks.
I think its mainly capacity, (but) its also building the right car that the consumer wants as opposed to building too many variations and too many models of a particular vehicle, he said. That puts you in a position where you are confusing the market, confusing the customer. Youre also making your manufacturing process more difficult because you have so many different iterations and variations of the vehicle.
In his role at Nissan, Mr. Diaz executes the marketing plan that has been set out by Jose Munoz, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Nissan Americas. Few executives know the Hispanic automotive buyer as well as Mr. Diaz, and he's already providing his input. But his focus is on the general market, with Hispanic buyers being an important component.
I was quite pleased when I came here, because its an area that I focused on in my past life and I really didnt know until I got here how good Nissan was marketing to Hispanic people, he said, adding, I think Ive given them some additional insight and direction, but its not like Im coming in here and going, Oh my God, these guys dont know the first thing about this. My job is to just not to mess it up and if anything try to make it better and keep pressing on.
To engage those Hispanic automotive buyers, Nissan uses traditional print and television advertising but has invested heavily in digital marketing. Mr. Diaz said Hispanic consumers are tech savvy, especially in their use of smartphones and social media.
Our whole focus is to make sure as we do our Hispanic marketing that it's real, its pure, its authentic, Mr. Diaz said. And the Hispanic consumer knows that we want to continue developing a relationship with them in an authentic way, not in a way that is offensive or not make somebody feel like were just marketing to you because we want your money.
For example, Nissan was one of the first auto manufacturers to produce commercials specific to the Hispanic market rather than doing just Spanish voiceovers. I think companies and corporations over the years have realized that you cant do that, he said.
And unless that relationship with the Hispanics is authentic, companies will have a difficult time reaching that demographic.
Its a segment you can't ignore, he said. Politically, economically, in the business world, they are fast becoming an extremely influential part of how America operates and what keeps America rolling.
As Mr. Diaz noted, Nissan has had great success marketing to the Hispanic population, especially on the West Coast. Excluding nonluxury vehicles, Nissan owns 11.5 percent of the Hispanic automotive market, Mr. Diaz said. While Toyota and Honda are ahead of Nissan, Nissan has been making up ground.
According to Polk, an automotive information and marketing company, Nissan has increased its Hispanic market share by 0.38 percent from 2012. Although on the surface the increase may appear to be minimal, many analysts have upgraded the companys stock to a strong buy.
The company's top-selling models to Hispanics are Sentra, Altima, Versa and Rogue. In the overall Hispanic vehicle market, Nissan has three of the top 10 models (Altima, Sentra and Versa), according to Polk.
Mr. Diaz expects Nissan to keep making those inroads, especially with Nissan CEO Ghosns push to increase market share. Hes got a goal, hes very clear where were going and what his expectations are, Mr. Diaz said.
Moving from an American auto manufacturer to a Japanese car builder has been an easy transition for Mr. Diaz. While he says there are slight cultural differences on how the Japanese manufacturer operates and arrives at decisions, he has nothing but praise for his new employer.
What I will tell you is I have really enjoyed the Japanese culture and how they do things, he said. They are very buttoned up, very detail-oriented and very respectful of common human dignity.
Mr. Diaz has also come to realize that Nissan is truly a 24-hour operation. When nightfall arrives in the U.S., corporate headquarters in Yokohama, Japan, is just starting its day.
We get emails throughout the night as well as throughout the day and thats been interesting, he said. Thats what keeps the company going at such as progressive, fast pace.
Top executives in the auto industry are known for putting in grueling hours, and Mr. Diaz is no different. Three or four hours of sleep a night is the norm for Mr. Diaz, who goes to bed when most bars close for the night. He keeps his cell phone ringer on and will routinely respond to emails even after going to sleep.
The hours are very long and very intense during the weekdays, Mr. Diaz said. During the weekends you don't shut down. You are always a phone call or email away. In this business, you have to be readily available.