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Good sign for Nissan on dealer perception

Nissan recorded an uptick in the latest National Automobile Dealers Association Dealer Attitude Survey — an industry insider's measure of how auto retailers confidentially feel about their franchise.

It was a modest gain. But it may be significant to the Nissan brand.

The company is in the midst of a reboot, with changing executives, new policies, updated products and a corporate campaign to improve factory-dealer relations.

Nissan's dealers ranked the brand 25 out of 31 brands in the NADA summer survey, according to a copy of the report card obtained by Automotive News.

While Nissan is still near the bottom, the survey shows improvement from its 28th spot in the previous survey, which was done in early 2020.

The latest survey saw Nissan improve in several metrics, including ease of doing business, willingness to consider dealer input and efforts to avoid incentive complexity.

"We are listening to what our dealers have to say and taking action," Judy Wheeler, who on Nov. 1 became Nissan's U.S. division vice president of sales and regional operations, said last week. "We are doing a good job with our field organization and how we train them."

Nissan has been through the wringer the past two years, struggling with operating chaos and streams of red ink. The NADA results may inform Nissan that it is on the right path. The automaker is attempting to revive its U.S. business with new and redesigned products and a pivot away from its past reliance on residual value-sapping rental fleet sales.

The product offensive, led by last month's launch of the redesigned 2021 Rogue, has lifted dealers' moods.

"The Rogue is hot right now," Wheeler said. "That gets [dealers] very excited, and they know they have more new product just on the horizon."

Nissan will bring five more new or redesigned vehicles to dealerships by the end of 2021. In addition to the Rogue, the Altima, Versa, Sentra and Titan have already received updates.

"With all the product that's coming, that really does make a difference in how the dealer body sees their franchise and their franchise value," Wheeler said.

The survey results show that Nissan is making a serious effort to improve dealer relations, Nissan National Dealer Advisory Board Chairman Scott Smith said. "It's imperative Nissan continues to keep its dealers engaged," he said.

A spokesman for NADA declined to comment on the results, saying the association does not make individual Dealer Attitude Survey reports available publicly.

But Nissan isn't home free yet. Dealers have expressed frustration with the factory's service and sales audit practices, whipsawing sales programs and turnover among senior management.

Nissan's tribulations are reflected in how dealers value the franchise.

According to a survey by Kerrigan Advisors, 69 percent of dealers polled expect Nissan franchise valuations to decline in the next 12 months, while 8 percent expect an increase. The survey was based on more than 680 responses from franchised auto dealers collected from June to October.

Franchises are valued on the expectation of profits, said Erin Kerrigan, managing director of the Irvine, Calif., firm. "Because that is not clear yet, it's driving the sentiment that the franchise could continue to go down in value," Kerrigan said.

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