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From the Detroit Insider:

Nissan's top designer says GM lost touch with customers

YURI KAGEYAMA / Associated Press

TOKYO -- General Motors Corp. is struggling because the U.S. automaker has forgotten over the years how to make cars that truly cater to consumers, Nissan's head designer said Friday.

"There was a lack of customer-orientation," Nissan Motor Co. Senior Vice President Shiro Nakamura said of GM's woes.

Nakamura, design chief at Nissan since 2000, was previously employed at Japanese truckmaker Isuzu Motors Ltd. Isuzu had a partnership with GM since the 1970s, and Nakamura worked with GM designers in the 1980s under that alliance.

On Thursday, GM said it was selling its 7.9 percent stake in Isuzu but said the cooperative relationship will continue.

Nakamura said he had "no idea" what GM's decision will mean for Isuzu's future because details of the deal weren't clear. But he expressed a fondness for GM's past glory, noting he worked with the world's best during his years at GM.

"It was a great experience for me," he said at a Nissan facility in Tokyo, which will offer car design classes to Japanese university students from June.

Nissan already sponsors car design projects at universities in Japan, Germany, South Korea and other nations. The latest initiative is an internship program for aspiring car designers.

Japanese universities tend to lag behind their foreign counterparts in car design instruction, and Nissan hopes to offset that through its new program, said Nakamura, who becomes chief creative officer next month, overseeing brand marketing as well as auto design.

GM's decision on Isuzu is part of the Detroit-based manufacturer's rapid shedding of stake ownership in Japanese automakers in an effort to raise sorely needed cash. General Motors, which has seen its U.S. market share eroded by Asian competition, lost $10.6 billion in 2005.

Earlier this month, GM sold 17 percent of Suzuki Motor Corp., which makes small cars, for about $2 billion, leaving it with a 3 percent stake. That followed last year's sale of GM's entire 20 percent stake in Fuji Heavy Industries, the maker of Subaru cars.
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