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Nissan cuts China sales outlook by 8% as car market sputters

Move signals an extended downturn in the world's biggest car market

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Mr Saikawa has criticised Nissan's strategy of offering above-average incentives and sacrificing profits for market share in the US.

Beijing

NISSAN Motor Co is cutting a future target for China car sales by about 8 per cent, people familiar with the matter said, signalling that the downturn in the world's biggest car market may be an extended one.

Nissan and Dongfeng Motor Corp now forecast that their joint venture will sell 2.39 million vehicles in 2022, the end of the current mid-term plan. That is a reduction of 220,000 units from the previous target, the sources said, asking not to be identified because the outlook is not public. Including imports, they sold a total of 1.56 million vehicles in China in 2018, an increase of 3.4 per cent.

One key factor is that Nissan is in between models at a time when the market is weak. Passenger vehicle sales in the country fell 6 per cent to 22.7 million units last year, the first decline since the early 1990s, while ongoing trade tensions with the US threaten to dampen demand even further. No major new Nissan models are planned for the China market till 2020, and its luxury Infiniti brand plans no new vehicles 2021, the sources said.

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Market voices on:

"Fresh new models is what keeps traffic coming to the showroom," said Bill Russo, chief executive officer of Shanghai-based consultancy Automobility Ltd. "It's especially true in hypercompetitive markets like China."

Nicholas Maxfield, a spokesman for Yokohama-based Nissan, declined to comment on the new targets. A spokesperson for Wuhan, China-based Dongfeng said that the company did not have any immediate comment. Dongfeng shares fell as much as 2.2 per cent in Hong Kong, while Nissan was mostly unchanged in Tokyo.

China was a key priority for Carlos Ghosn, the former chairman of Nissan and its alliance with Renault SA and Mitsubishi Motors Corp, before he was charged with falsifying financial information and breach of trust late last year. Ghosn, who was freed on bail earlier this month, has denied the charges.

While Nissan chief executive officer Hiroto Saikawa remains committed to China, he is embarking on a programme to put profitability before growth, said the sources. He has criticised Nissan's strategy of offering above-average incentives and sacrificing profits for market share in the US.

Given current conditions, this is probably the right approach, according to Janet Lewis, analyst at Macquarie Capital Securities (Japan) Ltd. "The move by Saikawa to improve the profitability of sales, even if it means a lower market share, is correct," she said.

Nissan's mid-term plan calls for an operating profit margin of 8 per cent on revenue of 16.5 trillion yen (S$199.9 billion) by 2022, with China contributing almost a third of revenue. Ghosn had pledged to invest US$9 billion and introduce a slew of new electric vehicles (EVs), as Nissan vies with global rivals including Volkswagen AG and General Motors Co to become the largest electrified vehicle maker in the country.

Drivers in China buy one of every two EVs sold globally, and every manufacturer there must meet strict output targets for new-energy vehicles or buy credits from rivals as the government moves to phase out gas guzzlers. BLOOMBERG