Nissan Hires Ram CEO for Brand in U.S.; Castignetti Exits

Nissan Motor Co., with U.S. sales lagging the industry’s rebound this year, said it hired a former Chrysler Group LLC executive to run its namesake brand in the country after the departure of a long-time sales official.

Fred Diaz, 47, formerly president and chief executive officer of Auburn Hills, Michigan-based Chrysler’s Ram brand and Mexican unit, will be vice president of U.S. sales and marketing for the Nissan brand, according to an e-mailed statement yesterday. Diaz, who spent 24 years at Chrysler begins May 1 and the position is new, said Travis Parman, a Nissan spokesman.

Al Castignetti, who had been vice president of sales for the brand since 2008, resigned yesterday to “pursue interests outside the company,” Brian Brockman, a spokesman for the Yokohama, Japan-based company, said in a phone interview.

Nissan’s U.S. sales, including its Infiniti luxury brand, slid 1.3 percent in the first quarter even as industrywide light-vehicle deliveries rose 6.4 percent, according to researcher Autodata Corp. While the company’s Altima sedan, was the best-selling car in the U.S. last month, the model fell to third place in the quarter from second a year earlier, trailing Toyota Motor Corp.’s Camry and Honda Motor Co.’s new Accord sedan.

“Nissan is losing market share right now and that’s a situation Carlos Ghosn must find intolerable,” said Rebecca Lindland, an analyst with Rebel Three Media & Consultants, based in Cos Cob, Connecticut. “This market is cutthroat, and manufacturers can’t afford to lose momentum, to lose time.”

Ghosn’s Confidence

Ghosn, chief executive officer of both Nissan and alliance partner Renault SA, in an interview last month said he was confident in the potential of the new Altima, redesigned last year, and Nissan’s U.S. sales officials.

“I trust that the team would know how to position it in the United States to get the kind of return that we’re expecting from this car,” Ghosn said March 27 at the New York auto show. “And sooner more than later it will show up in the market.”

Jose Munoz, senior vice president of North American sales for Nissan Motor, will oversee the Nissan brand on an interim basis until Diaz begins, Parman said. Munoz was promoted to the regional management post in December to replace Brian Carolin.

Chrysler declined to comment on Diaz’s departure, Jodi Tinson, a spokeswoman, said in an e-mail.

The North American unit of Japan’s second-largest automaker is based in Franklin, Tennessee, near Nashville. Nissan’s American depositary receipts rose less than 0.1 percent to $20.96 at the close in New York. The shares have gained 9.78 percent this year, trailing the S&P 500’s 11 percent.

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