Nissan North America has lost a key executive — one who had the ear and respect of the brand’s U.S. dealers.
Billy Hayes, Nissan division vice president of sales, will leave the company. The 44-year-old, named an Automotive News Rising Star this year, is the latest in a series of Nissan execs to bolt for the exits.
Nissan did not immediately name a successor for the job.
The automaker is undergoing a painful pivot away from profit-draining fleet sales and incentives in the U.S. in an attempt to shore up brand value and margins. But that’s hammering the Nissan brand’s U.S. sales, which fell 7.8 percent through July.
As Nissan’s liaison with its U.S. dealers, Hayes has had to manage a sometimes rocky relationship between the brand and its retailers.
“It will be hard for dealers to see Billy go. He’s kind of their guy,” said Tim Hill, owner of Hill Nissan in Winter Haven, Fla. “He knows the retail market and understands the hurdles dealers face every day.”
Hayes said he is leaving for “personal reasons,” and didn’t reveal what he might do next.
“I’m taking six months to figure out my next move,” Hayes told Automotive News.
Hayes joined Nissan in 2004 and spent a decade in human resources, dealer operations and other functions in the U.S. and Japan. In 2014, Hayes left Nissan to join Southeast Toyota Distributors, but returned two years later as a vice president.
In April, Hayes was promoted to his most recent role, where he managed the brand’s sales operations, and was responsible for field sales organization.
“I’ve developed a reputation as somebody willing to take on almost anything,” Hayes told Automotive News earlier this year.
News of Hayes leaving came as a surprise to dealers, who are expected to convene for Nissan’s annual meeting in Chicago Aug. 29.
“He was a friend of dealers,” said Dave Wright, dealer principal at Dave Wright Nissan-Subaru in Hiawatha, Iowa.
Hayes’ departure comes amid growing discontent among Nissan’s dealers over the automaker’s direction and strategy.
A power outage at a Nissan Group data center last week knocked out a key communications system for several days that Nissan and Infiniti dealers across North America rely on for several critical operations, leaving retailers unable to order cars and parts, obtain product rebate information, or check on vehicle recalls.
Nissan Group has had to endure a wave of executive departures in the wake of former Chairman Carlos Ghosn’s Nov. 19 arrest for alleged financial misconduct.
In April, Daniele Schillaci, Nissan’s executive vice president for global marketing and sales left the company.
Jose Munoz, Nissan’s former chief performance officer, resigned in January. He was subsequently hired by Hyundai as its global COO and the head of its North American business.
Meanwhile, Nissan’s luxury Infiniti brand has lost two presidents and its design chief so far this year.
Also out the door are former Mitsubishi COO Trevor Mann and former Mitsubishi head of product strategy Vincent Cobee.