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Nissan Dualis’ downmarket drive

Cheaper: A two-wheel-drive Nissan Dualis is coming to the rescue of the range.

Nissan repositions its slow-selling crossover to take on Corolla and co

23 Apr 2009

NISSAN is determined that its underperforming Dualis will deliver more sales in its upcoming – and less expensive – front-wheel drive guise.

Due in the latter half of this year, the Dualis 4x2 models will open in the $25,000 region, to take on the similarly priced Mazda3 Maxx, Toyota Corolla Conquest and Volkswagen Golf 90TSI.

Currently, the all-wheel drive-only Dualis ST 4x4 base model kicks off from $28,990 plus on-road costs – and this is without ESC stability control, side airbags, and curtain airbags safety-pack option that pushes the Dualis well over the $31,000 mark.

According to Nissan Australia CEO Dan Thompson, Nissan is sorely feeling the gap between the Tiida ($18,490 to $25,740) and Dualis 4x4 ($28,990 to $36,490), particularly as the Tiida is operating most effectively as a sub-$20,000 model.

“We need a mainstream hatch competitor,” Mr Thompson said.

“It is absolutely critical for us to get it right. We don’t have anything in that (mid-$20,000) space.”

Mr Thompson believes the Dualis 4x4 has failed to fire up the small car market as it has – as the Qashqai – in Europe because consumers simply did not identify with it as a small-car alternative – especially at the base Dualis 4x4’s opening price point.

“The Dualis range is limited. It did not translate into sales (because) we didn’t have the full complement of Dualis range to get the job done, but that will change in the second half of the year,” he said.

“We got to get it into the minds of consumers as a hatch and away from an SUV.”

12 center imageAccording to Mr Thompson, Nissan is counting on the 4x2 to lift Dualis sales dramatically. And although he would not divulge volume expectations, it is expected to account for at least 70 per cent of sales.

Released in December 2007, the Dualis has struggled to make inroads for Nissan, averaging 215 sales a month against a predicted target of 350 per month.

This is in stark contrast with the car’s market performance in Europe, where Qashqai demand exceeded forecasts by more than 60 per cent in its first 12 months on sale, forcing Nissan to hire more staff and run the Sunderland, UK production line to full capacity – until, of course, the global financial crisis took hold during last year.

One Nissan insider believes the Dualis is priced too closely to the larger and significantly more powerful X-Trail compact SUV, which commences from $32,490, or just $3500 more, than the small-car/crossover. That gap was even smaller until recently.

Nissan is also looking closely at supplementing the existing 102kW/198Nm 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine range with a variation of the 110kW/320Nm (six-speed automatic) and 127kW/360Nm (six-speed manual) 2.0-litre four-cylinder dCi turbo-diesel unit, as found in the Nissan X-Trail and Renault Koleos.

Both are built on the same ‘C’ platform as the Dualis despite being sourced from other countries (Japan and South Korea respectively), while the upcoming Renault Megane III also uses a modified version of this architecture.

However, if the Dualis diesel does get the green light, it will not arrive before 2010 at the earliest.

The other Dualis derivative on sale in Europe – the long-wheelbase Qashqai+ seven-seater – is also under review, but is unlikely to get a guernsey for Australia.

“The diesel is probably much closer to being a reality than the seven-seater (Dualis) is,” Mr Thompson said.

The timing of the Dualis 4x2 at the end of the year neatly coincides with the federal government’s planned fall in passenger-car import tariffs from 10 to five per cent from January 1, 2010, bringing all two-wheel-drive vehicles in line with 4WDs.

We can also expect the X-Trail 4x2 to follow suit, along with most other crossover and SUV models that have been hitherto 4x4-only models in Australia.

Read more:

First drive: The Dualis diesel Nissan Oz wants

First Oz drive: Dualis puts X in the city

Review: Nissan Ti 5-dr hatch

The Road to Recovery podcast series

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