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Nissan shakes up U.S. leadership as sales continue to slump

Nissan's U.S. operations will get its second new chairman in the space of just over a year.

Nissan announced Wednesday that company Senior Vice President José Luis Valls will become the new chairman of the automaker's U.S. operation, replacing Denis Le Vot. Le Vot himself took over as chairman in January of 2018--little more than a year ago.

The move doesn't come as a surprise given Nissan's performance in the U.S. market through 2018 and the early months of this year. An already-weak 2018 is being undercut this year by a further drop of more than 11 percent through February.

Under Le Vot (and at the direction of Nissan CEO Hiroto Saikawa), Nissan has backed away from heavy incentive spending, hoping to increase per-unit margins rather than relying on volume alone. It was perfectly reasonable to expect sales numbers to drop as a result, but it's unlikely that Nissan is happy with the severity of the decline in what is becoming an increasingly challenging market.

The news also comes on the heels of an announcement by Nissan that its luxury subsidiary Infiniti will undergo a restructuring which will result in slower-selling models being discontinued and an end to operations completely in Europe, where the brand's sales have plummeted in recent years. Infiniti was only just introduced to Europe in 2008 and sales there peaked in 2015.

The past year has also seen some serious executive shake-ups at Nissan. Former CEO Carlos Ghosn was ousted from the Renault-Nissan alliance entirely in the wake of a financial scandal which has since taken on the air of a coup as Ghosn has accused Nissan executives of arranging his arrest and subsequent dismissal as a plot to keep him from merging the two companies completely.

Le Vot will take over the role of senior vice president for partner Renault's light commercial vehicle unit, which means a return to France. A replacement for Valls (who also served as the leader for Nissan's American marketing and sales operations) has not yet been announced.

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