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Nissan steals the March on rivals

Quick March: Nissan's three-cylinder March hatchback - revealed at the Bangkok motor show - will materialise as the Micra in Australia late this year.

Bangkok show: First Thai-built micro hatch heralds Nissan Micra for Australia

30 Mar 2010


NISSAN beat its rivals to the punch by launching Thailand’s first locally made eco-car – the all-new March hatchback – at the Bangkok International Motor Show last week.

Due to hit the Australian market as the fourth-generation Micra later this year, the Thai-built March hatchback benefits from local tax incentives for energy-efficient vehicles, qualifying with a fuel-sipping 1.2-litre, three-cylinder engine that made its global debut in the European version at the recent Geneva motor show.

Toyota, Honda, Suzuki, Tata and Mitsubishi also have committed to the eco-car program, which motor industry authorities estimate could boost Thai vehicle production by 600,000 units a year to two million by 2015.

The five-door March – offering a choice of five-door manual gearbox or CVT automatic transmission – is expected to undercut the price of a Toyota Yaris or Honda Jazz by almost half.

Apart from Australia and New Zealand, the Thai Nissan plant will export the March/Micra throughout Asia, including Japan. Up to 70,000 of the year-one output of 90,000 units will be exported.

The car is also slated for production in India, China and Mexico where it will be built in hatchback, sedan and mini-MPV variants for sale in 160 countries at the rate of a million a year.

The Nissan March/Micra’s new engine, designated HR12DE, produces 59kW and 108Nm, with claimed CO2 emissions of 120 grams per kilometre. Surprisingly, no fuel consumption figures were published at either Geneva or Bangkok.

12 center imageFrom top: Honda Small Car Concept, Mazda2 sedan and Ford Fiesta sedan.

While Nissan drew the Bangkok headlines with showroom-ready March, Honda indicated it was likely to be second to market with an officially sanctioned eco-car – next year – with the unveiling of its New Small Concept.

Like the Nissan hatchback, Honda’s sub-Jazz micro car also has created interest Down Under. Honda Australia has confirmed it is examining the potential of importing the car from Thailand – the source of most its mass sellers, including the CR-V, Accord and Civic sedan.

The 1.2-litre three-door – codenamed 2CV – will go into simultaneous production in Thailand and India next year.

Sedan versions of the Thai-made Mazda2 and its Ford Fiesta sibling also were on show at Bangkok, revealing an attractive alternative design for two of Australia’s most popular light cars, along with impressively large boots.

For Mazda, the sedan will replace the three-door hatch alongside the five-door hatchback when the company switches from Japanese production to Thai sourcing from May.

Ford is also taking the Thailand route with its Fiesta later this year – a move that will deliver financial benefits due to Australia’s free-trade agreement with that country.

However, the Fiesta sedan won’t emerge from a new $US500 million ($A544m) factory at Rayong until the third quarter of this year.

When it does, the Thai domestic variant will have a 1.6 litre petrol engine and an optional six-speed, dual-clutch gearbox.

The Bangkok show offered no new developments in the Thai-made vehicle category of most significance to Australians, the one-tonne ute, while for tyre-kickers the highlights were the appearance of the Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG, BMW X1, Lotus range and Lexus LFA and LF-CH concept.

The SLS and LFA were the only supercars with official representation – little wonder since Thai Government import tariffs and other taxes can double the cost of luxury imports.

But at whatever level, exhibitors at the 12-day show were gearing for extraordinary sales.

Large and lavish (by local standards) displays and flocks of pretty girls demonstrated the global financial crisis is a memory for the Thai motor industry.

Nissan said it took 4300 March orders before the show doors opened last Friday, while Mazda Sales (Thailand) managing director, Australian John Ray, said he was hoping for 3000 sales off the stand.

Motor show spokesman Surasek Saengphachareonsup predicted total sales of around 20,000 – which seemed likely considering the armies of sales staff and extensive customer fascilities assigned to the stands.

The show’s private promoter, Dr Prachin Eamlumnow, hopes attendance will reach 1.8 million people, with the peak of 200,000 expected last Saturday.

Dr Prachin says the Nissan March, Mazda2 sedan and Ford Fiesta sedan will do well because Thais are keen to buy economical, modern small cars and willing to commit up to half their wages to repayments. ( Domestic sales take roughly half Thailand’s annual vehicle production, which slumped 28 percent to 999,000 in 2009.

Demand returned strongly in January with 50,000 sales and production of more than 100,000.

Authorities such as Dr Prachin, head of Grand Prix International, which controls Thailand’s leading motoring magazines and the Prince Bira racing circuit, predict domestic sales of 580,000 to 600,000 units and total production of 1.35 to 1.40 million vehicles this year.

Clearly, the Thai motor industry is on the move in more ways than one.

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