NEW YORK – The debate over the branding for the GT-R performance car is over, Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. CEO Carlos Ghosn reveals here.

Speaking at an International Motor Press Assn. breakfast to kick off the New York International Auto Show, Ghosn says the car will be badged a Nissan worldwide.

Ghosn also says he expects industry consolidation to continue over the next few years, and he calls on auto makers to build vehicles with more passion as a strategy for survival.

The GT-R, which was unveiled in near-production form at the Tokyo Motor Show last year, will hit the Japanese market next year, and the U.S. in spring 2008.

There had been long debate over whether to call the car an Infiniti or Nissan in the U.S., but the Nissan brand was chosen because that is what most other world markets wanted the car to be called.

“There was no advantage (one way or the other) in our projections for sales or profits in the U.S.,” Ghosn says of the debate over which retail channel should sell the car. “All other markets wanted the Nissan brand, so we decided to go with it here too.”

In his speech, Ghosn chastises U.S. auto makers for pumping up the market to 17 million vehicles over the past few years using sales incentives to “keep factories churning at all costs.”

“A high price has been paid for sustaining sales of 17 million units,” he says.

The heavy reliance on rebates and discounts has harmed brands and taken money away from developing new products customers will want to buy, Ghosn says. He estimates the industry collectively spent $60 billion on incentives last year.

“That’s enough to fund 120 new vehicles at $500 million per platform,” Ghosn says.

Nissan, he says, has used incentives regionally and “more surgically, not year-round.”

Manufacturers need to increase the speed of getting new designs to market in order to keep vehicles fresh and meet changing buyer requirements, he says. Auto makers also should “look forward” with their designs and take “calculated” risks when it comes to new models.

Manufacturers need to “evoke innovation,” he adds, with new features that provide value to the customer. “We need to listen to customers first and invent second,” he says.

Nissan, he says, has launched what it calls “Super Evolution,” a product-development philosophy meant to “push innovation” in new products.

Meanwhile, Ghosn says there will be more industry consolidation.

“I don’t want to play the numbers game about how many companies will be left, but there will be fewer,” he says. “I can’t predict how many companies will remain in China, but predict there will be future consolidation in the industry.”

However, he does expect Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Corp. to survive, though he has no advice for either.

“It is extremely difficult to understand the root of a company’s problems from the outside,” he says, adding he didn’t listen to advice from outsiders during his early days at Nissan. “I didn’t follow (outside) suggestions – fortunately,” he says.

Ghosn also defends his decision to move U.S. operations from California to Tennessee, saying there will be “short-term sacrifice (but) long-term benefit.

“We understand what the disruption will be,” he says. “It’s not a surprise. But we see more opportunity by moving to Tennessee.”

with Herb Shuldiner