Nissan to cut costs, capacity, lineup in sweeping overhaul

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TOKYO – Nissan Motor Co., battered from booking its first annual net loss in 11 years, aims to reboot its flagging fortunes with a retuned midterm plan that cuts billions in costs, slashes production capacity and trims the lineup in to reemerge as a smaller, more profitable company.

Under the plan, Japan’s No. 2 automaker aims to cut 300 billion yen ($2.78 billion) in fixed costs and reduce global production capacity from 7.2 million to 5.4 million vehicles. Nissan will close plants in Indonesia and Spain, as well as a line making vans at its Canton, Miss., plant. 

The reconfiguration will boost factory utilization to 80 percent, from around 70 percent today.

As part of the downsizing, Nissan will also trim the number of nameplates 20 percent to shrink the worldwide lineup to 55 models from 69. It will focus on a smaller number of more profitable core models and roll them out more quickly to bring the average portfolio age below 4 years.

Nissan plans to achieve the targets in the fiscal year ending March 31, 2024.

CEO Makoto Uchida outlined the restructuring roadmap Thursday, while announcing that the company tumbled to a net loss in the full fiscal year ended March 31. 

The dour earnings were unveiled a day after Nissan and its alliance partners Renault and Mitsubishi fleshed out a new profitability drive called “leader-follower.” Under the new strategy, the three automakers will now divvy up technologies, segments and world markets into spheres of influence where one company leads, to avoid duplication and save resources.

The new model provides a framework for the companies to pursue their own midterm recovery plans as they battle imploding sales, plunging profits and spiraling cost for new technology.

Nissan’s own updated plan, devised by COO Ashwani Gupta in conjunction with Uchida, builds on a plan announced last July by then-CEO Hiroto Saikawa, who was already trying to stem the automaker’s plunging profits. Under that plan, Nissan targeted 12,500 job cuts worldwide. 

Nissan did not give a figure for how many job losses would accompany the latest plans.

Rekindling the crucial U.S. business is Nissan’s top priority under the updated midterm plan. The company announced a leadership shuffle for the region this month. Regional Chairman Jose Valls will leave the company June 15, and his duties will be assumed by Jeremie Papin, Nissan’s finance chief for North America.

Reeling in global production capacity is a key goal. Under former Chairman Carlos Ghosn, Nissan’s capacity ballooned to 7.2 million vehicles a year. The new plan calls for cutting that to around 5.4 million units, more in line with actual sales.

Nissan Group’s U.S. sales tumbled 30 percent through March in an overall market that was down 12 percent. Its market share shrank to 7.3 percent from 9.1 percent. The Nissan brand fell 30 percent to 232,048 vehicles, while Infiniti slid 25.5 percent to 25,558.

Nissan’s cutback will entail the closures of the Barcelona, Spain, factory as well as the Indonesia plant where the company has already halted output. Other downsizing will focus on ending third shifts and closing lines. Nissan can bring capacity to 6 million through shift rationalization, Gupta said. To scale back further, to 5.4 million, will require deeper cuts of closing lines or plants.

For example, Nissan will end third shifts at its Smyrna, Tenn., plant and consolidate output of the Altima sedan in its Canton, Miss., factory. Currently, the Altima is made at both locations. 

Meanwhile, the third line at Canton, which makes NV commercial and passenger vans, will be closed. The Murano, which has been made in Canton, will shift to Smyrna – leaving the Mississippi assembly plant with the Altima and the Titan and Frontier pickups.

Nissan sank to an operating loss of 40.5 billion yen ($375.7 million) in the fiscal year ended March 31. It also tumbled to a net loss of 671.2 billion ($6.23 billion), its first in 11 years. 

The net loss was inflated by a 603.0 billion ($5.59 billion) charge for impairment and restructuring under the new midterm plan. Revenue declined 14.6 percent to 9.88 trillion yen ($91.64 billion) in the fiscal year, while global retail sales fell 10.6 percent to 4.93 vehicles. 

Nissan was already hurting before the COVID-19 pandemic hammered global sales and forced the company to suspend production at sites worldwide. The company was struggling to adjust a glut of production capacity and fine tune its incentive and fleet strategy in the U.S. Even before the pandemic hit, Nissan had issued two downward revisions to its profit outlook.

But Nissan blamed the pandemic for sending year-end results even lower.

Nissan’s U.S. assembly plants, which have been offline since April, will begin a gradual ramp up of production starting June 1. Nissan put thousands of workers on unpaid furlough. 

Nissan’s losses come amid similarly hardships at its alliance partners.

Renault, which updates on its own 2 billion euros ($2.20 billion) cost-saving plan on May 29, has already said its global sales plunged 26 percent to 673,000 units in the January-March quarter, pushing revenue down 19 percent. Renault suspended its full-year profit guidance. 

Mitsubishi reported earlier this month that it slumped to a net loss of 25.8 billion yen ($239.3 million) in its full fiscal year ended March 31, as operating profit tumbled 89 percent. 

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Saurabh Shukla

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