By any account, Nissan had a good year. Despite challenges in Asia and weakening consumer confidence in debt-ridden Europe, the Japanese automaker outpaced analysts' expectations for profits over the first half of its fiscal year, which ended last September. By year's end, Nissan's U.S. sales, including its Infiniti luxury division, improved 15%. Toyota and Honda ended 2011 with sales down 7% apiece, but they were greatly impacted by last year's tsunami in Japan, leading to far less dealership inventory than Nissan.
Ask CEO Carlos Ghosn to characterize Nissan's smooth sailing, and he tempers expectations: "If people are not upbeat, it's good," he said. "The company is moving into the right direction, even [though] there are a lot of headwinds."
Ghosn, 57, has been Nissan's chief executive since June 2001; he also oversees French automaker Renault, which has been allied with Nissan since 1999. He discussed Nissan's outlook for 2012 during this month's Detroit auto show, as well as at the Automotive News World Congress in Detroit the same week.
Major products like the Altima and Sentra — Nissan's first and third best-sellers in 2011, respectively — are set for redesigns this year. Both cars have been in their current guise since late 2006, and both are part of a global barrage that will include a new product every six weeks on average through 2016, Ghosn said.