Armed with new cars, Nissan sees "jump" in U.S. in 2012

DETROIT Mon Jan 9, 2012 9:32pm EST

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DETROIT (Reuters) - Nissan Motor Co expects to repeat its stellar performance in the United States, except by a bigger jump this year, as it heads into a period flush with remodellings for its top-selling cars, executives said on Monday.

Despite initial supply issues after the March 11 disasters in Japan, Nissan boosted its share of the U.S. market to 8.2 percent last year from 7.8 percent in 2010, with sales growth of nearly 15 percent.

"We did that without any new models - at the trough of our line-up's model cycle," Chief Creative Officer Shiro Nakamura told Reuters at the Detroit auto show. "That means 2012 is going to be a big jump."

Japan's No.2 automaker has given no official forecast for its U.S. sales.

But Chief Executive Carlos Ghosn repeated his goal of capturing at least 10 percent in the near future, saying that was Nissan's latent potential given its presence in virtually every segment of the market.

"Fundamentally, we are 1.8 percent below our potential now," he told reporters. He added that the same benchmark applied in China, where Nissan has 7.2 percent of the world's biggest car market.

Nissan will roll out 20 all-new or facelifted models globally over the next 24 months, including the next generations of the high-volume Altima, Sentra and Versa cars in the United States. Nissan also unveiled the new Pathfinder SUV at the auto show on Monday.

While volumes are still small, Nissan is also looking to double its sales of the Leaf electric car from 9,700 last year. The Leaf will become available in all 50 U.S. states by the end of this year, from 30 now and just seven states for most of 2011.

To keep up with demand, Nissan will add 1,200 jobs this quarter at its Smyrna, Tennessee factory, where production of the Leaf will begin late this year. It also plans to hire 350 workers this year at its Canton, Mississippi factory.

Nissan's board will also meet soon to approve a new factory in Mexico, Ghosn said. Production at the plant is widely expected to begin in 2015 and take Nissan's annual output capacity in the country above 1 million vehicles. Nissan is Mexico's top brand, with 24 percent of the market.

In other regions, Executive Vice President Andy Palmer said Nissan would see market share gains "without a doubt" in 2012.

The automaker has forecast global sales of about 4.8 million vehicles in the financial year starting in April, up from 4.2 million planned for the year to March.

Palmer said Nissan expects to grow even in Europe, where the automaker expects the market to fall 3 percent as the region's debt crisis takes its toll.

(Additional reporting by Laurence Frost)

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