Special Coverage

Greater L.A. Auto Show

LOS ANGELES – While still early in the marketing program’s life, Nissan North America Inc. is “cautiously optimistic” its 0% financing initiative, launched Nov. 4, is bringing buyers back into showrooms, says Brian Carolin, senior vice president-sales and marketing.

“Certainly, the feedback that I’m getting from our dealers is traffic has picked up. We’re getting people coming back into our showrooms,” he tells Ward’s in an interview at the Los Angeles auto show here.

“I just need to see that translate into sales now. I won’t see the full registration impact until the end of this month.”

Nissan is offering 0% financing on its Altima, Sentra, Murano, Versa and Rogue models and low lease rates on the Altima and Rogue.

The auto maker’s sales in the U.S. were down 6.2% through October, Ward’s data shows.

Nevertheless, Carolin is happy Nissan has seen an increase in market share, from 6.6% through October 2007 to 7.3% in like-2008, despite the extreme sales decline industry-wide.

Nissan’s market share through October was an all-time record for the brand, he says.

Carolin credits Nissan’s smallest passenger car, the Versa, for boosting the brand’s market penetration.

Deliveries of the subcompact were up 11.6% through October, Ward’s data shows, and Carolin says the Versa has a 22%-plus share of the subcompact segment in the U.S.

The Versa will continue to be an important vehicle in the market next year, which will remain challenging. “I expect our segment share to increase,” Carolin says, adding the Versa’s share of the Nissan brand’s total sales also will rise in the future.

Nissan has “ample capacity” at its Aguascalientes, Mexico, plant to produce the Versa for the U.S., but the number of units it will make available next year depends on industry sales, Carolin says.

For its current fiscal year, which ends in late March, Carolin says Nissan expects industry sales to land at 12.4 million units. For fiscal 2009, which begins April 1, the No.3 Japanese auto maker is predicting an even lower tally of 11.5 million.

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com