Declining markets in North America and Europe are making it harder for Nissan to reach its goal of selling 3.6 million vehicles in 2005, one million more than in 2001, despite an array of stylish new products, WardsAuto.com said.

The report noted that Nissan has been making a stunning comeback under the guidance of president and CEO Carlos Ghosn, who refuses to be deterred in meeting the only goal yet to be achieved in his turnaround Plan 180: The “1” represents 1 million new sales by 2005, the “8” stands for an 8% return on sales, and the “0” means zero debt, WardsAuto.com said.

The report said Nissan’s anticipated growth is divided among global regions: Japan 300,000, North America 300,000, Europe 100,000 and 300,000 in the rest of the world, including China. To reach that target, Ghosn is giving Nissan six extra months by defining the goal as the 2005 model year, which ends on September 30, rather than the fiscal year, ending March 31, WardsAuto.com said.

But, the report noted, sagging economies in two of its major markets could cause Nissan to stumble. The company sold about 2.8 million vehicles worldwide last fiscal year, up 6.7% over the previous, but fell short of expectations.

According to WardsAuto.com, Ghosn says full-year sales are 2.4% below the company’s forecast made last October and 0.08% from the initial forecast made last May and he blames the deficit mainly on US and European sales, particularly in the second half.

Nissan sales are growing in Europe, but slower than anticipated, WardsAuto.com said, adding that Ghosn, however, is optimistic the year will balance out with the launch of the new-generation [March-based] Micra, a ‘super-mini’ car, built at Nissan’s UK plant, which is proving to be very popular in Europe.

And despite lowering its market expectation from 55,000 vehicles to 50,000 in France, where overall car sales are down 10%, Nissan’s sales there climbed 31.6% in the first four months, to 12,751, WardsAuto.com added.

The website also noted that not only has France been the strongest European car market for several years running, but Nissan’s alliance with Renault also is helping win over French buyers.

According to WardsAuto.com, the real squeeze for Nissan is in the US, where the company is losing sales faster than the overall market, putting pressure on the success of its upcoming full-size pickup [Titan], full-size SUV [Pathfinder Armada] and first Nissan-built [Quest] minivan. But Ghosn insists he is sticking with an aggressive overall US sales goal of 852,000 units, an increase of 17.3%, the report added.

WardsAuto.com said, ever the optimist, Ghosn insists Nissan is not coming late to the party. “Trucks is a segment where we can compete,” the report quoted him as saying at a Job 1 [first production unit] ceremony for the new Titan pickup earlier this month. “Not by bringing another pickup truck or another large SUV that’s a little bit better and a little bit cheaper, but by bringing something new. Because there are unmet needs in the market.”