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Nissan denies Honda allegations on fleet sales

David Shepardson
Detroit News Washington Bureau

New York — Honda Motor Co.'s senior vice president for automobile operations of its U.S. unit harshly criticized its rival Japanese automaker Nissan Motor Co. suggesting much of its sales increase was due to "juiced" fleet sales.

"I don't really give a damn about Nissan. I really don't," said John Mendel at a roundtable with reporters on the sidelines of the New York International Auto Show. "I'm really tired of going to their press conferences and hearing Honda 15 times. I'm flattered but they don't do the business we do. They want to juice their business by 28 to 30 percent fleet every month. That's their business but then don't compare it to individual customers who pay their own money for individual cars."

Mendel said companies have approached Honda about running rental fleets in dealerships to boost sales. "They have a whole systematic group of people who go into the dealers on the 20th of the month based on what Nissan needs to beat Honda and forces the dealer to put an additional 10 or 15 rental cars in service."

He said Nissan's sales numbers should be viewed in that context. "That's good for them. They can do that. I don't care. But then don't come up and rattle the cage and say, 'Hey we're number one selling. Bulls---."

Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn has targeted aggressive U.S. sales growth and Nissan has been reporting strong U.S. sales, including its second-best ever month in March.

Nissan spokesman David Reuter denied Mendel's claims, including suggestions that it had boosted incentive spending.

"Nissan is proud of our consistent growth in the U.S. market, which is the result of increasing retail demand for our new products and strong collaboration with our dealer network. Nissan added more than 100,000 units of retail volume last year while our fleet business — taken as a percent of our total sales — remained consistent with what we've done in prior years at less than 17 percent," Reuter said.

"The wide majority of our growth has been due to retail sales gains, not fleet. We continue to manage incentives responsibly. In calendar year 2014 our incentive spend was down 10 percent and we remain significantly below the industry average for incentive spending."

Honda won't take the approach of adding fleet sales. Mendel acknowledged he was being more than candid.

"This is probably the last interview that PR is going to let me do," he added.