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Exclusive: New Nissan passenger cars still years away

Kick off: Nissan's local chief Richard Emery says the company is “nowhere near” making a decision on the Kicks crossover, but it is one of several models being looked at for Australia.

Pulsar, Micra replacements coming later this decade as Nissan makes tough choices

14 Apr 2016

NISSAN Australia's passenger-car line-up is set to get a much-needed boost with new versions of the Pulsar and Micra expected later in the decade, to help lift flagging sales of its micro and small-car offerings.

While the Japanese car-maker is enjoying strong sales for its SUV line-up, thanks to the popularity of the Qashqai, X-Trail and Pathfinder, it is in a holding pattern with its passenger line-up – the Micra, Pulsar and Altima – constrained by model life-cycle timing and production commitments.

All three models are not selling as well as Nissan would have hoped on local turf, particularly the Pulsar small car range, which sits in the largest and arguably most competitive segment in Australia.

In an exclusive interview with GoAuto, Nissan Australia managing director and CEO Richard Emery said he was “excited” by the potential new product on offer to the company's Australian arm, but added that it was a “challenge” to decide which models to take.

“I am excited because there is lots of flexibility and opportunity coming in terms of life-cycle planning for the Nissan brand,” he said. “I am challenged by (the fact) there is a little bit too much. You can’t have them all. And that maybe something that some car companies in Australia are guilty of, trying to grab everything. And you finish up with models doing 1200 cars a year and that spreads your focus and spreads your concentration.

“As a business in Australia we have to back some horses within the Nissan world in the next two or three years. That is high-risk business. I have got to make sure I back the right horse.

“We have got some cars coming globally in the 2018-2019 phase period, where I am really excited about what’s on offer for us. I am also a bit tingly on the edge of the fingers about if we make the wrong call here, where does that leave us? We have involved dealers. We had dealers up in Japan looking at these cars to give us some direction.” Mr Emery was coy on what models Nissan Australia is investigating, and while he said a replacement for the Pulsar was not coming “in the near future”, he added that the company is looking at a product to replace it further down the track.

“Certainly we will sustain our involvement in that (small) segment because … it is an important segment.

“Would I prefer to have a stronger showing in terms of our performance in that segment? Absolutely. I also have got to be realistic about where that segment is at. It's a competitive position between four or five key players that sell more volume than us, it’s pretty cut-throat. On that basis we need to be really robust about our decision making.

“There is product in the Nissan future that would allow us to compete for those customers. But in the immediate… (Japanese) fiscal year 2016 that is unlikely to impact.”

 center imageLeft: Nissan Australia managing director Richard Emery. The current-generation Pulsar, that launched in early 2013 in sedan guise followed by the hatch version in June, recorded 14,065 sales in its first year back on the market, before dropping to 10,515 in 2014 and then 8505 last year, falling behind a number of key competitors including the ageing Mitsubishi Lancer and the resurgent Kia Cerato.

So far this year Pulsar sales are 32 per cent behind the first three months of 2015.

An unrelated Pulsar – based on the Qashqai underpinnings – was launched in Europe in 2014 and despite Nissan Australia saying at the time of its reveal that it was investigating it, the stylish hatch was never made available Down Under.

Micra and Altima sales have also dropped off, not helped by a slide in buyer interest for micro and mid-size cars. Last year the Micra lost 48.6 per cent of its sales compared with 2015, while the Altima dropped 17 per cent.

In terms of a replacement for the six-year-old Micra, Mr Emery said there was more than one possibility and hinted that the next-gen sub-Pulsar Nissan light car might not be a Micra.

“We have seen some cars in a room and there is a number of alternatives that would suit our market circumstances. Choosing one of them or several of them is that challenge to make sure we make the right call.

“I wouldn't assume that, just because there is a new Micra and because we have got a Micra now, that we will just take the next one automatically. It might not suit the business circumstances and segment going forward. Whether it be size or cost or specification or whatever else.

“There is a new Micra on the drawing board and yes it is an option for us but by no means is it a done deal that we would take it.” Mr Emery said there is potentially room for both a micro-car and a light-car offering in Nissan's passenger car line-up if the business case stacked up.

“If I have got a product offering that meets our expectations in terms of specification and pricing and volume opportunity, I would be happy to have both (micro and light). I think we want to make a decision about what the segment and what the market expectations are going to look like in four or five years time, not what it looks like today and I think things will change in that.” Another new model that could potentially end up in Australia is the Kicks compact crossover. The small SUV was originally slated for developing markets only, but Nissan saw the car's potential and announced last year that it would eventually become a global model following its introduction to markets such as Brazil.

“Because of its rollout globally, there will be more news mid-year. What comes with that early development stage perhaps doesn’t consider markets like Australia for Euro 5 etcetera. Now the conversation is, 'that is interesting, that might work for us, how far away from being suitable for Australia is it in terms of specification and tech availability”'.

“As you can imagine, an emerging market car, they don’t start building them in spec levels Australians expect. Can you do this and this for us, and have you got enough factories that can build it – that conversation is ongoing, but we are nowhere near making that decision.” In the shorter term, Nissan will introduce the facelifted version of its hi-po GT-R sports flagship in September, but that will be about it for the brand in Australia for the remaining part of 2016.

It has already ruled out the facelifted versions of the Altima and Pulsar sedan as they are on different life-cycles and from different production facilities as the Thai-sourced Australian-spec models, while the striking Murano SUV and related Maxima mid-size sedan are also off the cards.

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