Weâ€™re weeks, probably months, perhaps years or even decades from learning what went down in Nissanâ€™s Yokohama executive suite over the last few days, weeks, and months.
Nissanâ€™s departed boss, Carlos Ghosn, who has not yet been forced out at Renault â€“ a fact thatâ€™s certainly subject to change at any given moment â€“ faces the prospect of prolonged jail time.
On the one hand, the harshest observers will point to CEO Syndrome, an above-the-law belief and a sense of invincibility, that precipitated a turn to horrifying criminal behaviour. At the other end of the spectrum, there will be others who see a coordinated corporate coup d’Ã©tat.
Regardless of where the early verdicts land, based as they typically are on limited information and scant evidence, on this all analysts can agree: Nissanâ€™s turnaround during Ghosnâ€™s 19-year tenure was monumental.
These are the numbers behind the transformation.
Start with the U.S. picture. By 1998, the year before Ghosn became COO at Nissan, the brandâ€™s U.S. market share fell below 4 percent after nearly two decades above that mark. From Nissanâ€™s peak of 830,767 sales in 1985 (according to CarSalesBase), U.S. volume had fallen by a third. During the mid-90s alone, from 1994 to 1998, Nissanâ€™s U.S. volume tumbled by more than a fifth.
By 2003, three years after Ghosn became Nissan president and two years after being named CEO, Nissan market share was once again back above 4 percent. In fact, Nissanâ€™s U.S. market share increased in 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, and in 10 of the following 12 years. The surge culminated in better than 8 percent U.S. market share in 2016 and 2017, fulfilling Ghosnâ€™s very publicly stated 2011 goal. Nissan reported 1,440,049 U.S. sales in 2017 (plus another 153,415 Infinitis.) Thatâ€™s a 258-percent increase from the end of the pre-Ghosn area.
Granted, Ghosnâ€™s insatiable quest for market share wasnâ€™t always matched by a commensurate increase in Nissan profits. Recent cutbacks on the aggressive discounts that were required to boost market share, for example, resulted in a predictable sales downturn and a steep drop in Nissan profits.
But Nissanâ€™s U.S. steady rise up the U.S. ranks, which was accompanied by improvements around the globe as Nissan sales rose 54 percent from a record high of 3.77 million in fiscal year 2007 to 5.79 million in 2018, wasnâ€™t something that developed by discounts alone. Nissanâ€™s product offensive during the Ghosn era led to a large SUV/crossover lineup in time for an SUV-crazed era; high-volume, top-tier contenders in categories as varied as the subcompact, midsize sedan, and midsize pickup categories; and eye-catching design risks in initially underpopulated segments such as the Nissan Murano and Nissan Juke.
Itâ€™s easy in this age of sedan malaise, for example, to forget the impact Nissan had on Americaâ€™s midsize car category when an upsized and powered-up Altima arrived for the 2002 model year. U.S. Altima volume jumped 72 percent between 2001 and 2005. Prior to 2006, Nissan wasnâ€™t playing in the subcompact sandbox. But the Versa became Americaâ€™s top-selling subcompact, adding 144,528 sales to the U.S. sales ledger in its best year to date. When Nissan introduced the outlandish first-gen Murano in late 2002, Ford hadnâ€™t yet thought up the Edge and Subaru hadnâ€™t enlarged the Outback to wagon-on-steroids proportions. But Nissan quickly had a hit on its hands, selling more than 56,000 Muranos in its first full year and averaging over 60,000 annual Murano sales during the last decade.
Heading into 2002, Nissanâ€™s U.S. lineup consisted of only eight nameplates: 350Z, Altima, Maxima, Sentra on the car side; Frontier, Pathfinder, Quest, and Xterra on the light-truck side. By the time of economic collapse, Nissan was still pushing those models but had added the GT-R, Versa, Armada, Murano, Rogue, and Titan. Save for the Quest and an engine change resulting in the renamed 370Z, those models all exist today, along with the Kicks, Leaf, Rogue Sport, and a pair of commercial vans.
Carlos Ghosn will likely live to regret many of his life choices. But he certainly isnâ€™t guilty of waiting around to make them.
Timothy Cain is a contributing analyst at The Truth About Cars and Driving.caÂ and the founder and former editor ofÂ GoodCarBadCar.net. Follow on Twitter @timcaincars and Instagram.