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First look: Nissan's Maxima attack

To the Max: Artist Bernie Walsh's impression of Nissan's new Maxima.

New Maxima heads Nissan's attempt to break the shackles from Toyota

14 Aug 2002

THE new Nissan Maxima, the next step in Nissan's desire to climb out from under the shadow of Toyota, will be launched in Australia next year.

Destined to remain Nissan's flagship sedan, it will finally move away from emulating cars like the Avalon and take on a look of its own as part of a program to create unique Nissan designs.

In spite of a near-brilliant driveline, the Maxima has languished in Western markets because of especially bland styling and ordinary interiors that make it just another Japanese car.

This is a legacy of Nissan's long-standingpolicy of shadowing Toyota model for model in order to pick up the crumbs from Toyota's table.

But the policy has been a disaster with the company losing share in Japan, for example, from 33 per cent in the late 1980s to 19 per cent today.

Research worldwide showed Nissan was seen as a strong brand but, in every respect, not seen as being as strong as Toyota.

Nissan's head designer, Shiro Nakamura, who was recruited by Nissan from Isuzu, said one of the first tasks he was given by Nissan chief Carlos Ghosn was to stop emulating Toyota and create unique and innovative designs for Nissan.

The head of Nissan's corporate planning group, Patrick Pelata, a Renault recruit, said the new 350Z was a symbol of this new direction and the company's commitment to shake up the market with sporty and advanced designs.

"We are no longer there to do what others have done," he said.

"This was a big problem in the past - too much in the shadow of Toyota. We have done a lot (recently) to be ourselves."Mr Pelata said that for this reason the X-Trail was not a copy of a RAV4 or a CRV. But it takes on the additional role of not just a competent off-roader, but also a family car alternative that bridges the gap between the Pulsar and Maxima.

He said that in Australia X-Trail was significant because Nissan was locked out of the volume sedan market of Falcon, Commodore, Camry and Magna.

"In Australia we cannot go there. To go there you need a manufacturing location, you need big volumes and we cannot do that right now. So for us X-Trail is a family car that is not a sedan because that market is locked for us," he said.

"Australia is testing that role for X-Trail for us (in other markets) and it looks like it is doing this very well."Mr Pelata said the new 350Z and Maxima were important cars for Australia as they were expected to change buyer perceptions about Nissan.

"We think that once the perception of the brand is improving, a lot of people who were not considering Nissan would start to consider Nissan again," he said.

The new model Maxima would be the Nissan flagship sedan in Australia. It takes on a much more important upmarket look that heralds a new era for Nissan styling and is said to include a new focus on interior design for Nissan.

Mr Pelata said Nissan design in future would focus on sportiness, engineering technology, strong Japanese styling cues, warm and unique interiors and a commitment to information technology (including on-board navigation and tele-matics) in its cars.

"All our interior designs are built to take those (IT) systems now," he said.

"We are working to make owners feel the interiors were designed just for them. That we had that person in mind when we designed it."He said interior design was the new battleground in differentiating brands and it was an opportunity for Nissan to demonstrate its separation from Toyota.

"You will see that in the new Maxima for Australia," he said.

"You will see a very different way of expressing the high quality interior."

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