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December 12, 2005

Nissan Sinking

I don't think I'm speaking too much out of school to say that these are troubled times for Nissan. Of all the Japanese automakers, they are alone in a downturn this past quarter. The price of gas has done them in. If that weren't enough, their move from Los Angeles is wrecking havoc on employee moral and efficiency. I know. I'm on contract with them.

Nissan is a cool place to work, but all of the cool and talented people are finding work elsewhere. Nobody wants the one-way ticket to Palookaville Tennessee. Even though you could afford a mansion and a yacht with your California equity, most of the folks I'm talking with prefer the ethnic mix and the ocean to those incentives.

I've had the experience of working at other automakers here in So Cal and Nissan was the better one. Although things may have changed since those days there were notable cultural differences that Nissan folks may take some getting used to. Toyota is a well-wrapped culture. It's very protective of values. Well, let me not mince words. It's a place where you don't smoke, drink or speak in sports analogies. To my sensibilities, the place was entirely too uptight. They can be extroardinarily efficient, but nobody moves. Which is to say that it's very Japanese with regard to their commitment to fulfilling promises. You cannot see a problem and react to it, rather you plan with detail who is going to do what and when, and the plan sticks. Forget new obstacles and brick walls. Forget better ways to do the right thing. Commitment is everything. Everybody knows what everybody is doing and harmony is valued over individuality. I am told that this is how women prefer to work, and there were a majority of women on my floor all up and down the hierarchy.

Honda, I don't know. The only word that I've heard about the joint is 'weird'. I've driven past their HQ in Torrance 1000 times and I've never seen anybody come out of that building.

When I had a short engagement at Mitsubishi, the air was filled with paranoia and pride. Mitsubishi was and still is trying desparately to be something other than a one-car company. They believe, and probably rightly so, that all of their cars are great but they are only appreciated for the Eclipse. Truth be told that Lancer Evo is pretty hot too. No matter, at the time it wasn't on the radar, so Japan had come down hard on the Americans. There didn't seem to be an English speaker in the house who could make their own decisions being approved way up the chain. So there were meetings about deciding if a meeting would be held to decide something.

There is nothing so sad as a lack of leadership, except perhaps bad leadership. I watch human beings like an alien at times, and find it remarkable how we adapt to strange circumstances. So I know that the Nissan folks will find their feet eventually, even if it is at the odd angle, like the hideout of the badguys on Batman, of another car company. Nobody has even thought about GM or Ford, not that they have any admin stuff out here. Some are heading to Hollywood and others to aerospace. A few are retiring, and a few are actually relocating to the area around Smyrna.

What's left is going to be a huge gap. Not only have a number of the Nissan folks hit the door, but IBM is getting shown the door for application support. Some new Indian company has got the contract. What everyone is perceiving is that nobody who knows any of the ways Nissan has done business is going to be left. The really talented folks who would rather remain in California are going to get swooped up and the relatively less ambitious / talented people are going to be left behind. This means great chunks of expertise in both staff and tech support are going to evaporate. Nissan will be left with a very few good teams. Opportunity for them, chaos in the short term.

One can't help but be skeptical for the next couple of years as Nissan gets their feet. This is yet another bold move for them which may come to bite back. Who knew, when Nissan put their foot down and boldly put those huge trucks out there, the Titan and the Armada, that the price of gas would double? Who knows what may transpire to make Tennessee just what the company needs or a costly mistake? How will the market perceive all of this? Only time will tell.

Posted by mbowen at December 12, 2005 08:12 AM

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Nissan should never have changed the Maxima so much with the recent redisgn. The one they had around 2000-2001 was real nice, and then they had to go and take all of the edge out of it with the latest edition that looks too similar to other bland cars. Nissan's new clame to fame will be its continuously variable transmission. My brother has ridden in a Titan a few times with one, and says it is absolutely amazing to never feel it change gears.

Mitsu's Lancer Evo should be the inexpensive car to buy if you want to go fast. All wheel drive, turbo, and it isn't bad on gas.

Honda should be up to weird things these days. With the recent redisgn of the Civic, I can't anything bad about their line. Plus they have robots!

Posted by: matt at December 12, 2005 09:33 AM

Yeah I know some who aren't leaving for Dogpatch.

Posted by: the Pirate at December 12, 2005 12:27 PM

I bought a Nissan Altima LE new in 1999, and am still driving it. My primary reason was because the 2.5L engine had a timing chain. I had problems with Jap cars that had timing belts. Who in their right mind would design an engine that had a water pump driven off the timing belt? Toyota, that's who. Mine broke on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, and I am grateful to a merciful God for surviving to tell you about it.

(Any truth to the rumors that the Titan and Armada are built like crap?)

My Altima has 101k on it, and the loan was paid off long ago. I'm going to keep it another couple of years. If I had to buy a car today, I would be looking at either a Nissan Murano or one of the vans that has rear seating that can fold into a flat floor.

Posted by: Scott Ferguson [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 12, 2005 01:52 PM

Who in their right mind would design an engine that had a water pump driven off the timing belt? Toyota, that's who.

I had the '90 Mit. Eclipse GT. It was the same deal. To change belts, they had to damn near lift the engine out of the car.

My timing belt broke at 48K. It was 2K before the warranty expired. They replaced 3 of 4 cylinders. That was the only problem I had with the car. The car kicked butt as well as the sound system.

I have an Acura CL 2.2 right now. It's under powered, but the 3.0 automatic didn't have a smooth shift. The car is solid, but the sound system stinks. That's true for Honda in general. My wife has the '2003 Accord EX. It's a nice car. It's a very nice car. But the sound system stinks.

I test drove the Murano and the Maxima. Both are solid, both have kick butt sound systems. Maxima is priced right but has poor visibility out of the back. THe Murano seems cramped and is too much money for what it provides, IMO.

Posted by: DarkStar [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 12, 2005 06:29 PM