YOKOHAMA (XFN-ASIA) - (Updates with additional quotes, background)
Nissan Motor Co chief executive Carlos Ghosn warned shareholders today the company may miss its domestic sales target for the year to March 2007 but he predicted a pick up in sales late in 2006.
Nissan, Japan's second-largest automaker is 44.3 pct owned by France's Renault SA.
'(Fiscal year) 2006 will be a year of two distinct halves. The first half will be tough and challenging,' Ghosn said
He sought to reassure investors, who gathered here for the firm's annual shareholder meeting, that Nissan would see an improvement in its fortunes later this year.
'Do not be too disturbed when you see that our sales and operating profit are down every month during the first half of this fiscal year (to March 2007).'
'Please be confident. We are confident,' he told shareholders.
'From October 2006, we have a very strong and very attractive product pipeline coming,' he added.
Global sales volumes would grow by more than 10 pct in the second half and operating profit was expected to accelerate as Nissan launches nine all-new models worldwide this year, he said.
Nissan's biggest market is the United States where, like other Japanese automakers, it is enjoying brisk sales as local firms General Motors and Ford post losses.
In Japan, however, Nissan's sales fell 0.7 pct in the year to March 2006 although the group still made a sixth straight year of record profits.
Ghosn said Nissan now expects domestic sales of between 800,000 and 846,000 vehicles this financial year, compared with its April forecast of 846,000 as the overall markets shrinks and mini-cars increase in popularity.
But he reiterated the global forecast for about 3.7 mln vehicle sales this year, rising to 4.2 mln by the year to March 2009.
In June, Nissan agreed to expand an alliance with Suzuki Motor Corp in mini-vehicles as part of its efforts to boost flagging domestic sales.
Nissan forecasts record net profit of 523 bln yen on sales of 10.75 trln yen this financial year, up from 518.1 bln yen and 9.43 trln the year earlier.
On concerns voiced over who will lead the company after he steps down, Ghosn said: 'We have enough talent. When the time comes (for me to leave) you will not be disappointed by whoever is leading the company,' he said.
When later pressed on when he would step down from Nissan, Ghosn said only: 'The day I think I'm not contributing enough to the company, then I will leave.'
Ghosn reiterated his scepticism about new fuel-efficient hybrid cars being championed by Toyota Motor Corp, noting that in Japan the gas-electric vehicles represented less than 1 pct of the total market.
Nissan also announced plans to bring forward by one year to 2009 a move of its corporate headquarters from central Tokyo to the port of Yokohama in order to shift its management closer to manufacturing and research and development facilities.