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Geneva show: Oz hope for Nissan’s Euro hatch

Pulsar of Europe: Reports suggest that Nissan’s Spanish-built rival to the VW Golf will mix styling of the Note light car (pictured) and the Dualis compact SUV.

More upmarket, sweeter handling Nissan hatchback could make it Down Under

Nissan logo6 Mar 2013

By HAITHAM RAZAGUI in GENEVA

NISSAN global executive vice-president Andy Palmer has confirmed a mystery VW Golf-rivalling small hatch to be built at the company’s Barcelona factory in Spain is related to the Pulsar sold in Australia.

He also suggested that the hatch could be sold in Australia, although it is not clear whether it would replace the Thai-built Pulsar hatch due for Australian introduction alongside the recently launched sedan before June or be sold alongside as a premium option.

Speaking with GoAuto at the Geneva motor show, Mr Palmer said the Pulsar, which is built in Thailand and China predominantly for the Asian market, “clearly relates to the one we’re going to be producing in Europe”.

But he said once the European version reaches production Nissan will decide “which incarnation is appropriate for the Australian market”.

Overseas reports suggest the still-secret Euro hatch will mix styling of the all-new light-sized Note unveiled in Geneva overnight and the Dualis compact SUV.

GoAuto and other Australian media have criticised the Pulsar sedan’s handling and Mr Palmer recognised this country’s preference for a more sophisticated, European-style driving experience.

“We need to bring the dynamic performance that I expect from European cars to Australia and with that car in particular we put in an enormous amount of effort to make sure it handles properly,” he said.

“My intention is that Australia is going to benefit from that as well.”

Nissan’s intention to produce up to 80,000 units a year of the as-yet unnamed small car at Barcelona – which also builds the Navara ute and related Pathfinder SUV – seems like small volumes for such a popular segment but Mr Palmer thought it was enough, citing a tough segment.

“It’s a tough segment, bearing in mind in the same segment we’ve got Qashqai (Dualis) which is selling 250,000 so when you are at 330,000 units in the C-segment in Europe I’d say that is a pretty significant share of market and a very tough market,” he said.

“We put the two cars in that market and they are complementary to each other.”

The new hatchback is set to enter production in July 2014 and Mr Palmer has been quoted suggesting the car will wear a familiar nameplate but not Almera, which debuted in the 1995 N15 Pulsar-based hatch in Europe and now applies to a light sedan sold in Australia, among other markets – some of which call it Sunny, long the European name for the Pulsar.

Nissan’s Barcelona factory is confirmed to produce the next-generation Navara, which Mr Palmer said would not be co-developed with Mitsubishi – a plan publicised in late 2010 that never got off the ground.

European production of the new Note light car will take place at the British Sunderland plant that assembles the hot-selling Dualis, while the facelifted Leaf EV will also be built there, as will a small Infiniti model – expected to be badged Q30 – from 2015.

The Australian Pulsar sedan has not yet received a rating from crash-test authority ANCAP and Mr Palmer said final results were not yet in.

“I have been in the business long enough and done enough crash tests to know they don’t always come out exactly where you expect them to be so that’s the reason for the hesitancy,” he said.

“I think you will understand when I say I don’t want to over-commit on something but I promise you as soon as I know you will know.”

Asked whether a Nismo version of the Pulsar to sit above the SSS hatch was likely as part of the performance arm’s recently announced expansion, Mr Palmer said such a car “would make a lot of sense”.

He also told journalists a diesel engine for the all-new US-built, petrol-only Pathfinder SUV was under study and that the company will “have something to say on that by the (northern hemisphere) summer”.

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