Business / Corporate

Nissan-Mitsubishi-Renault alliance takes No. 2 spot in global auto sales for first time

Kyodo

The alliance of Nissan Motor Co., Renault SA of France and Mitsubishi Motors Corp. said its global auto sales in 2017 rose 6.5 percent to 10,608,366 units on brisk sales in China, ranking second for the first time.

The alliance trailed Volkswagen AG of Germany, which clinched the top spot for the second consecutive year, but outperformed the Toyota Motor Corp. group, which includes the minicar maker Daihatsu Motor Co. and truck maker Hino Motors Ltd.

Carlos Ghosn, chairman of the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance, said Tuesday that the sales growth “reflects the breadth and depth of our model range, our global market presence and the customer appeal of our vehicle technologies.”

Global sales of the Japanese-French group topped the 10 million mark for the first time — a milestone that only Volkswagen and the Toyota group have accomplished — as it continued its climb from fourth place in 2016. Mitsubishi Motors joined the alliance after Nissan bought a 34 percent stake in October 2016.

Nissan and Mitsubishi Motors’ sales rose significantly in China, their largest market, helped by the popularity of sport utility vehicles. Mitsubishi Motors’ recovery from a slowdown in 2016 following a fuel economy scandal also lifted sales.

A Nissan executive said the alliance will continue to take advantage of the scale of the group, which cuts costs by sharing car components.

A Toyota official said the carmaker “will not pursue higher unit sales by merely comparing with other companies’ figures,” adding that the group’s sales hit a record high for the first time in three years on “continued efforts to grow sustainably.”

Although General Motors Co. has yet to release its annual sales figures, the Toyota group is believed to have surpassed the U.S. automaker to rank third after selling a record 10,386,000 cars globally in 2017, up 2.1 percent from the previous year and surpassing the 10 million mark for the fourth consecutive year.

For the first nine months of 2017, General Motors’ global sales fell 2.2 percent. The automaker is expected to release the 2017 data in early February.

Toyota ended its four-year reign as the world’s top-selling automaker in 2016, losing out to Volkswagen, which was recovering from a scandal on diesel data falsification.

Volkswagen’s sales increased in every international market, up 4.3 percent globally to 10,741,500 units.

But the picture is not all that rosy for the Japanese-French alliance, with Nissan still struggling to recover from an inspection scandal involving unauthorized workers who had been engaged in final car tests. The incident is still hurting sales in Japan.

Earlier this month, in his first public remarks since the scandal surfaced last September, Ghosn avoided any mention of it on the grounds that he was no longer the CEO of Nissan. There has been speculation that he could step down as Renault’s CEO as well.

Meanwhile, competition in producing emission-free cars and electric vehicle technologies continues to intensify across the globe.

Nissan has been the leader in EV production in the automotive industry for some time, launching its revamped Leaf electric car in October.

But with consumers in the key U.S. market opting to buy large cars amid falling oil prices, it remains unclear whether Nissan’s EV technology will boost sales. In contrast, the Chinese market, where the company had record-high sales in 2017, is expected to introduce stricter emissions regulations in 2019.

Carmakers have announced tie-ups to step up cooperation in developing electric vehicles, including an alliance between Toyota and Mazda Motor Corp., and three major automakers in China have joined hands in making green cars.

There is speculation that the Chinese companies could merge in the future, becoming a group ranking with the world’s top carmaker groups of Volkswagen, Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi, the Toyota group and General Motors.

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