Nissan's Ghosn: to forecast "significantly higher" sales

TOKYO Wed Jun 22, 2011 10:14am EDT

Carlos Ghosn, Chairman and CEO of Nissan and Renault, poses for a picture in front of television screens showing devastated areas caused by the March 11 tsunami and earthquake, taken by a Reuters photographer, before the Reuters Rebuilding Japan Summit in Tokyo June 22, 2011. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

Carlos Ghosn, Chairman and CEO of Nissan and Renault, poses for a picture in front of television screens showing devastated areas caused by the March 11 tsunami and earthquake, taken by a Reuters photographer, before the Reuters Rebuilding Japan Summit in Tokyo June 22, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Kim Kyung-Hoon

TOKYO (Reuters) - Nissan Motor Co (7201.T) will forecast "significantly higher" sales for fiscal 2011 on Thursday after restoring production more quickly than expected from a post-quake setback, CEO Carlos Ghosn told a Thomson Reuters Newsmaker event.

Nissan, like other Japanese automakers, had delayed providing this year's financial forecasts due to uncertainty over when parts supplies would fully recover after the March 11 earthquake in Japan's northeast.

While the industry as a whole has restored output levels more quickly than initially expected, Nissan's projections are set to outshine Toyota Motor Corp (7203.T) and Honda Motor Co (7267.T), which have forecast a decline in car sales for the current financial year to March 2012.

"We are going to show you the numbers tomorrow. It is significantly higher (than last year's)," Ghosn said, adding that the guidance could surprise market watchers.

"Today we are very near normal production," Ghosn, also head of Renault SA (RENA.PA), said at the Newsmaker event, which concluded the Reuters Rebuilding Japan Summit in Tokyo.

"We have some restrictions on production but we are approaching normal levels of production and two months ago we never would have thought we would be approaching normal levels."

Before the March 11 earthquake disrupted output, Japan's second-biggest automaker had been on a fast track for growth, mainly through its aggressive drive into emerging markets such as China, Russia and India. Ghosn said Nissan would also unveil new steps in the coming weeks to accelerate growth in the Brazilian market, where it is currently a bit player.

Continued industry-beating expansion in developing markets is expected to figure largely in a new, six-year business plan that Ghosn is scheduled to unveil on June 27.

JAPANESE WORKFORCE "SECOND TO NONE"

Japan, on the other hand, is a market where demand is certain to diminish, Ghosn said. But he stressed that Nissan -- despite its diverse workforce and management team -- remained a proudly Japanese company that would fight to keep building at least 1 million vehicles a year at home.

Ghosn said the March 11 disasters had shown that Japanese people were unmatched in their speed, execution and dedication -- a view shared by Toyota Executive Vice President Yukitoshi Funo at the Reuters Summit on Wednesday.

"When you clarify for the people the priority and the vision, the Japanese workforce is second to none," Ghosn said, offering some of the lessons he had learned as the nation rebuilds itself from one of its worst natural disasters in history.

Even with all the problems in Japan, and particularly for domestic car makers burdened by an unfavorably strong yen, Ghosn said he was upbeat about the auto industry's prospects as the global economy inches toward recovery.

"I never believed in the scenario of a double-dip," Ghosn said. "I think it's obvious that after the financial crisis everybody was foreseeing...that the recovery will not happen in a linear way. We are seeing the crab movement, you know -- one to the right, one to the left. I think we are going to see this until we see a clear recovery."

Ghosn said the auto industry, for its part, would mark another year of record vehicle sales globally in 2011.

Asked what lessons he took away from Renault's botched spy probe this year, Ghosn said companies needed to keep an eye on support functions, and not just the core operations.

In March, Ghosn and his then-deputy at Renault, Patrick Pelata, returned their bonuses after the company admitted that it had improperly accused senior managers of industrial espionage.

"We have the tendency to pay a lot of attention to engineering, manufacturing, quality," Ghosn said, adding that the tendency was to pay little attention to support functions such as security and accounting.

"The lesson is that, from time to time, your worst problem could come from an area that you're not paying attention to. Pay attention to everything."

(Additional reporting by Nathan Layne, Michael Flaherty and Kevin Krolicki; Editing by Edmund Klamann)

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