Nissan CEO Saikawa Resigns

First Up 09/09/19

Sept. 9, 2019

After Mazda3 Stumbles, Mazda Relies on CX-30 for an Upmarket Boost

The Mazda3 is meticulously engineered. The new generation that debuted for the 2019 model year uses windshield-washer nozzles attached to the wiper arms so the spray is cleared more quickly than with hood-mounted nozzles. And, according to Automotive News, there are many more examples. But perhaps less successfully engineered was the timing of the vehicle's launch, since the compact sedan and hatchback are the first vehicles designed around Mazda's aspiration to become more premium. The timing was problematic, some dealers and analysts say, because Mazda is trying to use a car to do a crossover's job: drive sales gains and elevate its image. In fact, the Mazda3 is among the brand's poorest sales performers in the U.S. this year and is a significant factor in Mazda's 11 percent sales slump so far in 2019. Mazda has help on the way in the new CX-30 compact crossover that is built on the same platform as the Mazda3, but in a more consumer-friendly package. For details on this strategy, and how dealers are responding, click here.

Nissan CEO Saikawa Resigns

Nissan Motor Co. Chief Executive Hiroto Saikawa will step down effective Sept. 16, the company said Monday, ending a term marked by controversy over the arrest of former Chairman Carlos Ghosn. The Wall Street Journal reports that Nissan director Yasushi Kimura announced the move after a board meeting. He said Chief Operating Officer Yasuhiro Yamauchi would take over as acting CEO after Mr. Saikawa’s departure. Mr. Kimura said the board hoped to select a permanent successor to Mr. Yamauchi by the end of October. Mr. Ghosn led the company for nearly two decades, but was stripped of his Nissan posts after his arrest last November. He faces trial next year in Tokyo on charges of financial crimes, including underreporting his compensation. He says he is innocent of all the charges. Mr. Saikawa, who took over as chief executive in 2017, had faced criticism for failing to stop what Nissan has described as Mr. Ghosn’s abuses of power. For more, click here.

Volvo Successfully Pivots to SUVS, Out-Pacing Market

During a very fallow product period that came before Volvo’s introduction of its XC90 crossover SUV, questions about the brand’s survival were everywhere. But somehow Volvo managed to survive that dreary portion of its history, a multi-year period in which it leveraged the relative financial security of its then-new Chinese ownership to assemble a platform and product plan that was heavy in crossover SUVs. And that product plan has led to growth that is outpacing the U.S. market year-to-date. According to Forbes, Volvo’s U.S. sales were up 2.2 percent month-over-month for the just-completed month of August 2019 and that year-to-date sales are up 4.4 percent. The key reason for the positive news is the Swedish brand’s pivot to crossover SUVs. The three-row XC90 luxury crossover SUV and the midsize two-row XC60 luxury crossover have been the mainstays of Volvo’s sales success, contributing some 42,000 of the brand’s 68,000+ unit sales year-to-date. And to that, you can add another 12,133 sales contributed by Volvo’s most recent crossover, the highly popular XC40 compact SUV. For more on Volvo’s U.S. strategy, click here.

Hyundai's Palisade ad campaign puts focus on family

Hyundai used the first professional football game of the season to kick off its family-oriented advertising campaign for the new Palisade crossover, tweaking the notion of family to include the differing groups of people who make us feel at home. Automotive News reports that in one TV spot that was shown on Thursday, there are various family groups shown throughout the ad: neighbors, friends, fellow fans at a sporting event, and actually family with shared DNA. With a voiceover by actor Jason Bateman, the ads drive home the idea that family events are made easier by a big, three-row crossover with some light off-road capability. "They come in small groups, or by the thousands," Bateman says over images of sports fans at a game. "But we call them all family. And everything is just better when you're with them. No matter how you family, it's better in the first ever Hyundai Palisade." Click here to watch.  Hyundai said that the national advertising campaign includes the four spots shown during the first NFL regular season game of the year, plus a series of digital videos. For more on Hyundai’s latest campaign, click here.

Interview: Young Car Dealer Busy Making Plans – Then Gets Horrible News

In 2008, Ryan LaFontaine was busily overseeing his first big business project – the construction of the LaFontaine Automotive Group’s sprawling flagship dealership in Highland, MI – when he got horrible news about his health. He had cancer. It was a jolt, emotionally and otherwise. The road to recovery was sometimes a blur, such as when he spoke at the opening of the Highland store, which has earned honors as an environmentally friendly facility. Today, LaFontaine, 42, is in full remission. He is chief operating officer of the automotive group founded in 1980 by his parents, Michael and Maureen LaFontaine. Sister Kelley is group vice president. They began with a single store. The group now consists of 34 automotive retail franchises, 17 stores and six body shops across southern Michigan. A new dealership opened this year in Fenton, north of Detroit. In a Wards Q&A, Ryan LaFontaine talks about his business style, what he’s learned from his parents, how he pays employees and his life as a cancer victim and survivor. Click here for the full interview.

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