LOS ANGELES -- Nissan has hired the senior auto reviewer for Consumer Reports magazine to be the carmaker's new executive adviser on vehicle quality.
David Champion, senior director of Consumer Reports Auto Test Center, will work at Nissan's vehicle testing center in Stanfield, Ariz., the company said in a statement. Champion, who worked as a Nissan engineer from 1994 to 1997, will report to Steve Monk, Nissan's director of vehicle evaluation and testing, the Yokohama, Japan-based company said.
"The auto industry likes to downplay Consumer Reports' influence, but consumers have a different view," said Alan Baum, principal of auto-industry forecaster Baum & Associates in West Bloomfield, Mich. "Nissan has positioned itself as a design leader among the Japanese automakers, but over time design alone becomes less groundbreaking. Others catch up. You have to focus on mundane issues like quality."
The hiring of Consumer Reports' Champion, who has recommended Nissan's Altima sedan as the magazine's top pick among midsize sedans, is part of a push by the second-biggest Japanese carmaker to be viewed as an industry quality leader as competition with Toyota, Ford, Honda and Hyundai intensifies.
"His experience in developing robust testing methods will help Nissan keep pace with the increasing complexity of our products and stay focused on continually improving our customer satisfaction ratings," Carla Bailo, Nissan's senior vice president for North American research and development, said in the statement.
Champion's first day at Nissan is Sept. 10, Katherine Zachary, a company spokeswoman, said in a phone interview.
Consumer Reports, published by nonprofit Consumers Union, is among the most influential vehicle guides in the U.S. Carmakers seek favorable evaluations from the publication as its reviews are considered the most objective because of policies of accepting no advertising and buying every vehicle it tests.
Positive reviews by the Yonkers, N.Y.-based publication for Toyota and Honda vehicles in the 1980s helped those companies develop a reputation for vehicle quality. Reviews led by Champion singled out products including Honda's 2012 Civic sedan last year and Toyota's new Prius c subcompact in May as vehicles buyers should avoid.
Honda has said it's modifying Civic, the top-selling small car in the U.S. this year, for 2013 to address some of the magazine's criticisms, including interior materials and cabin noise.
Two senior Consumer Reports engineers, Jennifer Stockburger and Jake Fisher, have been promoted to take over Champion's testing duties, said Douglas Love, a spokesman for the magazine.
The magazine is "grateful" for Champion's contribution to the organization, Liam McCormack, Consumer Reports' vice president and technical director, said in a statement today. "He has helped transform Consumer Reports' Auto Testing operations during his 15 years here and become an influential voice in the autos space."
Separately, Nissan is recalling 7,842 units of its new Infiniti JX35 luxury crossover vehicle, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said today on its website. The recall is to fix faulty fuel gauges on the Smyrna, Tennessee- built vehicles, NHTSA said.
Nissan's North American headquarters are in Franklin, Tenn.