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Next Micra to fly Nissan’s Gen Y flag alone

Micra management: Nissan's Micra will fly the flag alone at the low end of the Nissan range after the Cube and Juke were rejected for Australia.

Juke and Cube kyboshed for Oz, leaving all-new Micra as Nissan’s sole Gen Y car

Nissan logo21 Jun 2010

By MARTON PETTENDY

NISSAN has confirmed it will not import the company’s funky new Cube hatchback or the similarly youth-oriented Juke mini-crossover, leaving this year’s all-new Micra as the brand’s sole model for under-30-year-old Australians.

Both the third-generation Cube and all-new Juke wagons had been under consideration for Australia, but Nissan Motor Co Australia CEO Dan Thompson has confirmed neither Generation Y model will be introduced Down Under because of their limited appeal here.

“The Juke is not in the plan for Australia,” he told GoAuto in Japan last week.

“We’ve looked at it a number of times but there’s not really a B-segment crossover market in Australia, so we’re not sure there’s much demand for it at all here.”

Mr Thompson suggested Nissan Australia failed in its attempt to position the striking new city-SUV, which is now on sale in Japan, sufficiently below the strong-selling Dualis compact SUV (priced from $24,990 in facelifted 2WD guise) to establish a business case locally.

“We took another look at it after Geneva (where the Juke made its global production debut in March), but we can’t fit it into the portfolio, especially given the success of Dualis,” he said, pointing out that Mitsubishi’s upcoming ASX compact crossover was closer in size to the Dualis.

12 center imageFrom top: Nissan Cube, Nissan Juke.

Mr Thompson is equally sceptical about the sales success of Nissan’s MkIII Cube in Australia, despite the recent release of similar Gen Y-targeted models in Kia’s Soul and Toyota’s Rukus.

“We won’t take the Cube,” he confirmed, adding: “We did quite exhaustive studies two or three times and it doesn’t have any space in Australia, where it will always be a niche model.

“We already have quite a broad product range and you’ll see from others who’ve launched similar products that it’s a niche-only proposition here – unlike in Japan, where it’s mainstream“Micra will be our core Gen X and Y product,” said Mr Thompson. “We’re not interested in products that don’t bring volume or help the brand in other ways.”

However, he is adamant the next-generation Micra, which will eventually grow to comprise an entire family of models, is convincing enough to be Nissan’s only model aimed at under-30s – despite initially being available only in five-door hatchback guise.

Currently, the Japanese-sourced K12-series Micra – launched here in December 2007 – is available in a single five-door specification here, priced at $15,990 and powered only by a 72kW/137Nm 1.4-litre petrol engine matched exclusively with a four-speed automatic transmission.

The only option is a ‘City Collection’ pack that brings side and curtain airbags, a better audio system and alloy wheels.

From its December release in Australia, however, the new Micra will be available with two engines, two (manual and CVT) transmissions and at least two well-specified equipment grades, priced from as low as $13,000 as Nissan takes advantage of Australia’s free trade agreement with Australia.

Mr Thompson said a manual transmission, sharper pricing, more standard equipment and less polarising styling would make the K13 Micra a far more mainstream proposition than the K12.

Although the current Micra exceeded Nissan Australia’s sales expectations by attracting up to 600 sales a month, the company expects its successor to be at least twice as popular with sales of up to 1500 a month, ranking it among the three most popular models in the light-car segment – Australia’s third largest vehicle sales category.

“A five-door at three-door prices should hit the spot in the market,” he said.

“With a five-door we’ll be able to cover the entire light segment, including at the lower end. Currently, the K12 doesn’t compete with a manual, but now we will.

“By nature it will be cheaper because we will have a manual entry model, but also because it’s a global product with scale and efficiency built in, which means it will be better value. It will also have extra standard features over the current Japanese-built model.

“Moving to Thailand (production) also gives us a competitiveness we didn’t have in Japan. It gives us a triple whammy that allows us to have aggressive pricing we didn’t have today.”

The local Nissan chief said the new model’s more masculine exterior styling would make it appeal more evenly to both men and women. The latter have accounted for 70 per cent of buyers for the current Micra.

“The current car is female-friendly but polarising in its design,” he said. “We deliberately positioned the car to be attractive to young females but we’ll be more neutral in our marketing for the new Micra. We’re confident the new Micra will reach a much broader target.”

Two-door coupe-convertible, three-door hatch, four-door sedan and sliding-door people-mover models based on Nissan’s new ‘V’ (for ‘versatile’) compact vehicle platform will eventually join the new Micra five-door, which will be produced for the first time in Thailand for Australia and Japan, and in India for Europe.

Nissan is also planning a range of limited-edition Micra variants plus a host customisation options, but not all V models will be sold in Australia.

“There will be a sedan and a people-mover, but I certainly don’t believe there’s an MPV segment in Australia,” said Mr Thompson. “We’ll have an opportunity to bring the sedan if that market opens up. We’ll monitor it down the track, but at the moment sedans are only 10 per cent of the (light-car) segment.”

Nissan hopes to sell a million V-based vehicles in more than 100 nations globally by 2012 and Australia will be among the first markets in the world to receive the new Micra, which is already in production in Thailand, where 10,000 orders were logged in the first six weeks of sales.

The Micra will be launched with both 1.2-litre three-cylinder and 1.5-litre petrol engines in Europe.

While the new HR12 1.2-litre three-pot petrol engine produces just 59kW/108Nm and returns CO2 emissions of just 95g/km, a direct-injection supercharged version delivers a handier 72kW/142Nm and could form the basis of a hotter SR version.

“We’ll look through Micra as to whether we need more performance or not,” said Mr Thompson.

“Micra is a core model for us and it has a big job to do. The platform is very flexible and we have plenty of options down the track. We’ll be able to cover the needs of Gen Y and the light segment in general.

“There’s the perception that Gen Y wants Soul and Cube type vehicles but they don’t sell in any significant numbers.”

Mr Thompson added that K13 Micra pricing would not be finalised until as late as possible to ensure it is competitive in the face of a range of new light-sized models expected this year from China and India.

“We’ll wait until the very last minute to lock in pricing,” he said. “We haven’t yet started the final discussion with Japan and it won’t be finalised until we’re confident we know where the competitive set is.

“We’re already seeing significant changes. Hyundai is coming with i20 and i10 and that could change the whole light-car segment.”

Mr Thompson said he expects the new Micra to play a small but important role in growing Nissan’s market share from 5.7 per cent last year to 6.5 per cent in 2010, when Nissan Australia has forecast sales of 65,000 vehicles and total industry volume of at least 1,020,000 sales.

“Certainly the industry is prepared for a million market,” he said. “The first five months of the year have been very strong but driven by government stimulus. Private buyers are still cautious and although interest rates will start to pinch they have also stabilised.

“Fundamentally the market is very strong. The question is will we pause for a bit, or will it keep going?”

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