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Nissan set for ‘Pulsar’ comeback

On the pulse: Nissan Australia is likely to re-introduce the Pulsar nameplate with its next-generation small car.

GoAuto reveals Nissan’s shortlist of names for crucial Tiida replacement – and more

5 Aug 2011

NISSAN Australia has all but confirmed that it will revive the Pulsar nameplate with its next-generation small car, which appears the strongest candidate from two other names from which the Australian subsidiary can choose.

Notwithstanding that Nissan Australia chief executive Dan Thompson inadvertently referred to the crucial redesigned small car as ‘Pulsar’ when this week specifying the launch timing for the new model – first quarter 2013 – GoAuto can reveal that the confirmed shortlist is Pulsar, Tiida and Versa.

Versa is also the model name that Nissan Australia is considering for its Micra-based sedan due for release early next year, with Mr Thompson confirming that the light four-door’s name would be selected from Versa, Sunny or one other moniker still to be divulged.

Although he denied the Tiida nameplate was the root cause of the vehicle’s poor sales performance in Australia – it currently holds just 1.5 per cent in the nation’s biggest market segment – Mr Thompson admitted that the ‘Tiida’ name was at least partly responsible for its problems.

“I think it’s a combination of many things,” he said.

12 center imageLeft: Nissan Tiida as seen at the Shanghai show. Below: Nissan Versa/ Sunny.

“I don’t think the positioning was right, I don’t think the marketing was right, the name was an emotional consideration – probably more for our dealer network than anything else – so it did have an impact, absolutely no doubt, but it’s not the main reason. We’ve repositioned Tiida two or three times since we’ve launched.”

For the new model range, which will span hatch and sedan body styles and is set to offer a diesel engine for the first time, Mr Thompson said: “Pulsar, or Tiida replacement, comes at the end of the plan.”

This ‘plan’ is the so-called GT2012 which expires on March 31, 2013 – the date Nissan has set, and is still sticking to, for taking the mantle as Australia’s number-one full-import brand and owning a 10 per cent share of the market.

At that stage, the new-generation ‘Pulsar’ is expected to account for 10 per cent of the small-car market, which based on 2010 figures equates to around 24,000 units. Last year, Tiida managed 5491 new registrations.

“There are three names to choose from, Pulsar being one of them, and we’ll test it to no end to make sure that bringing back a name from the past – like Sunny is another example (for the light sedan) – is the right thing to do for Nissan as a brand,” Mr Thompson said.

“We have embarked on a journey to change the perception of Nissan over the last three years, so the last thing we want to do is bring history – unless it has strong equity, and of course we know that Pulsar has strong equity – but it has to fit the direction of the brand.

“And we will spend a considerable amount of time with both those products making sure that the equity in the name fits the direction of the future product and the future direction of the brand.”

If Australia follows the US in applying the Versa nameplate – which is currently used in place of Tiida in North America – to its new-generation light car, Pulsar then becomes the natural successor for Tiida in Australia.

Mr Thompson said: “I have no doubt it gets really confusing when there is different naming on the same product and the same naming on different product, and that’s why Nissan tried many years ago with Tiida – let’s simply get equity in a global pet name, or model name – but there is some pragmatism now that certainly there are market dynamics and cultural reasons that you have to respect.”

Nissan Motor Co chief operating officer Toshiyuki Shiga told GoAuto last October that the Japanese manufacturer had given its Australian subsidiary permission to revive the Pulsar nameplate.

Asked to rate the Versa nameplate, Mr Thompson this week said: “I’ll let the people tell us through the research, what the name means and what it stands for.

“It’s one of my benefits also with the Pulsar debate – not having lived through and not being emotionally attached to it, to me I’ll be very pragmatic about it also. If it’s what the people are telling us fit where we know we want to take the Tiida replacement, then (I’m) not fussed by it. If they tell us differently, I’m also not fussed by it.”

The bigger new-generation Tiida – as it will still be known overseas – will be offered in Australia with both sedan and hatch body styles and, Mr Thompson has confirmed, a diesel engine is under consideration for sale alongside the regular petrol engine, marking a first for the brand in the small-car segment here.

“Certainly, it’s a consideration but petrol still dominates that segment,” he said.

“We’ll lead with petrol, but as we did with Dualis, for instance, that’s where we are today (petrol only), but we’ve realised a developing demand for diesel so you’ll see diesel from us next year in Dualis. And we’ll do the same with all of our core models.”

While Nissan is confident the Tiida replacement will become a top-three contender in the small-car segment, Mr Thompson said the prospects of the Micra-based light sedan – which is bigger than the hatchback, hence the different nameplate – were more difficult to assess.

“It’s a slice of the segment that isn’t significant today but there is this blending or melding between light segment and small segment,” he said, adding that Nissan was “watching very closely” what Hyundai is doing with Accent before finalising positioning of the light sedan over the next three to six months.

“We’re going to take a much more efficient approach to coverage and we’re going to see some of the success that Hyundai has in that space before we make a final decision.”

Mr Thompson said the light sedan was unlikely to offer different powertrain options to the Micra hatch – an 81kW/145Nm 1.6-litre engine will be used in the US, for example – but his cautious approach could mean the sedan launches with a simplified model range, perhaps foregoing the 1.2-litre engine and entering the market only with the 75kW/136Nm 1.5-litre engine used at the higher end of the Micra range.

As GoAuto has reported, the third-generation Tiida was unveiled at the Shanghai motor show in April, presenting a bold new face with edgy triangular headlights and deep body-side sculpting, and a 100mm-longer wheelbase (to 2700mm).

In China, the new Tiida’s mainstream engine will be Nissan’s 1.6-litre HR16DE petrol four, which receives a number of lower-emissions ‘Pure Drive’ technology to reduce fuel use and meet China’s more stringent third phase fuel-efficiency requirements, including the latest dual injectors and an Xtronic CVT gearbox with an auxiliary transmission.

Top billing under the bonnet, however, should go to the next Tiida’s new ‘turbo series’, for which Nissan has provided no details but says will make it the first Japanese car-maker to introduce a turbocharged engine in China.

The current Tiida sold in Australia is powered by a 93kW/174Nm 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine.

The new-generation light sedan, meanwhile, was shown at the New York auto show in April after being first seen last December at the Guangzhou motor show in China.

It is slightly lower and shorter than the current Tiida sedan – the length change being most obvious with the shorter front, though longer rear, overhang – but has a bigger boot space, more rear legroom and a higher level of technology throughout.

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