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Nissan Australia focuses on positives in tough 2019

MVP: The X-Trail mid-size SUV (left) has outsold the Navara ute (below) this year, cementing its place as Nissan Australia’s most important model.

Returning passenger cars to help increase Nissan Australia’s future volume potential

13 Aug 2019

NISSAN Australia says it is focusing on the positives in a tough year, with sales down 14.2 per cent to the end of July on the back of 29,154 vehicles sold, while a broader return to selling passenger cars will increase its volume potential further down the line.


Speaking to GoAuto at this month’s Navara N-Trek national media launch in Maleny, Queensland, Nissan Australia managing director Stephen Lester stopped short of specifying the company’s 2019 sales expectations but suggested it will again finish in the lower half of the top 10, despite recently expressing its aspirations for a podium finish.


“We seem to bounce between sixth and ninth pretty routinely. We’re probably going to end up somewhere in that range,” he said.


“We’ve got a very specific mandate to finish cleaning up our sales this year, which we’ll endeavour to do, making sure that our dealers’ inventory is in line (and) making sure that we’ve got a healthy inventory as well, and that inventory is quite youthful.


“And we’ve got a number of products that we’re focused on continuing to build on the success and momentum with, be it Patrol as an example. X-Trail continues to be very, very strong and we’re excited about the launch of the Leaf.”


The Patrol upper-large SUV is Nissan Australia’s only model to post sales growth this year, its 1191 new registrations in the first seven months representing a massive 48.7 per cent increase over the 801 examples sold during the same period in 2018.


The X-Trail mid-size SUV is still the company’s best-selling model with 11,208 units finding homes in the year to date. Even though this figure is down 7.6 per cent, it represents the smallest loss in Nissan Australia’s line-up.


As reported, the second-generation all-electric Leaf small hatch officially launches this month, but 109 sales from a supply bank of 128 units for the rest of this year took place in July alone, most of which were believed to be dealer demonstrators.


When asked if Leaf is the first in a new line of passenger cars for Nissan Australia, following the company’s axing of Micra, Pulsar, Altima and Maxima from 2013 to 2017, Mr Lester indicated it is a matter of when, not if.


“Over time, you will see more passenger cars from us,” he said. “You don’t really need to guess any further than what the most dominant segments are – in terms of where we would look and what we would try and push for. That’s absolutely where we’ll go to.”


Mr Lester would not be drawn on timing for Nissan Australia’s return to selling mainstream combustion-engined passenger cars, which may have to wait until the next generation of models become available. The company is now only trading with the ageing 370Z and GT-R sportscars.


“There can be a difference between my timeline and the timeline I may be given at some point or agree to,” he said. “It can never come quick enough in my eyes, nor our dealers’ eyes.


“That’s what we get paid to do – work hard with the global teams and see how we can bring that to life.”


While a returning Pulsar five-door hatch would be a logical entrant in the high-volume small-car class – the market’s second-largest segment – its current C13 series was discontinued in Europe in September last year due to low demand. It is still, however, sold in China as the Tiida.


Conversely, the prospects of the Pulsar four-door sedan are much brighter, with the B18 series (known as Sylphy in China) debuting at the Shanghai motor show in April this year.


Unlike its hatch counterpart, the sedan will be produced in Japan for local consumption, which is where Nissan Australia sources most of its right-hand-drive models. This is also key due to the lower export costs brought about by the free-trade agreement between the two countries.


Alternatively, Nissan Australia may look at introducing the K14 Micra light car. While it is built in France, it is manufactured in right-hand drive for the UK, which makes its prospects strong, particularly in a relatively buoyant class.


The L34 Altima mid-size sedan and A36 Maxima large sedan are also possibilities, despite being ruled out last year. That said, both models are manufactured in the US and China exclusively, which may weaken any business case, alongside the fact that they compete in shrinking segments.


Another model that has been mooted for Nissan Australia is the Navara-based Terra large SUV, but Mr Lester admitted that is no sure thing as the lack of a Euro 5-compliant engine (to satisfy ADRs) and autonomous emergency braking (to receive a five-star ANCAP safety rating) continue to prevent its introduction.


“We’re no closer to seeing Terra, to be perfectly honest,” he said. “I’m not entirely sure that project will come to life or not for us.”


Meanwhile, Mr Lester was quick to defend the Qashqai small SUV’s performance this year (6496 sales, -22.8% or 1922 units), which has dropped more volume than any other model.


“I think you really need to dive into the numbers on Qashqai. It’s actually had quite a fine year,” he said. “When you look at the quality of sales and what we’re being able to get over the line, I’m quite confident Qashqai’s doing the job.”


The second-largest hit to Nissan’s sales has come from the Navara ute (8136, -14.7% or 1358 units), but Mr Lester pointed out that the changeover with the upgrade introduced in July and the addition of its new N-Trek flagship this month briefly stunted its momentum.


“We’ve had the outgoing Series III and the incoming Series IV, so that’s part of the equation,” he said. “I think that Navara’s really well poised for a very, very strong second half. And, again, we’re seeing really good improvement in the quality of sales.”


As for the broader market, Mr Lester stressed that its return to growth “couldn’t happen soon enough”, with the industry down 7.7 per cent for the year to date.


“We had the election come and go (and) things haven’t moved as quickly as anybody would’ve liked, but that being said, we’re seeing some other good lead indicators,” he said.


“We’re going to be focused on capturing whatever portion of the pie there is for us to capture and continuing to grow the business.”

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