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Pulsar growth to take time, says Nissan chief

Mission set: Nissan's Pulsar is a strong-seller, but still has a way to go to match the most popular in the segment.

Pulsar sales to keep growing, but matching Corolla a tough task: local Nissan CEO

Nissan logo15 Aug 2013

NISSAN Australia’s popular reborn Pulsar still has plenty of sales upside, but company CEO Bill Peffer admits that toppling the market-leading Toyota Corolla or Mazda3 in the short-term is “unrealistic”.

The replacement for the maligned Tiida has once again given the Japanese car-maker a competitive offering in the small-car segment that comprises about 25 per cent of total industry sales.

Nissan sold 9153 Pulsars between the end of January (when the staggered launch, beginning with just the sedan version, commenced) and the end of July, giving it a 6.3 per cent share of the total small-car market. This compares to 1977 sales of the Tiida over the same period last year.

In an illustration of its importance to the brand, Pulsar has almost single-handedly ensured Nissan’s total sales have grown over and above its record 2012 figure, to the tune of 6.7 per cent, since its launch in January. Most of the brand’s ageing core models are actually down this year, including Navara 4x4 (-8.0 per cent), X-Trail (-23.4 per cent) and Micra (-43.2 per cent). Among key volume-driving Nissans on sale both this year and last, only the Dualis (up 15.1 per cent) is in the positive.

The arrival of Pulsar hatch – including a hot SSS version – two months ago culminated in a huge June figure of 2323 units, although this fell to 1132 in July on the back of a supply restriction.

But even June’s result fell well short of the class-topping Corolla and Mazda3, both of which average well in excess of 3000 sales per month, and in a bumper June sold 4196 and 3672 units respectively.

Nissan Australia’s previous management boldly predicted Pulsar would be a top-three seller in the segment – current number-three, the Hyundai i30, averages a shade below 2500 sales each month – and command a 10 per cent share (the June result came in at 8.9 per cent).

However, Mr Peffer has taken a less aggressive approach than his predecessor Dan Thompson.

“We’re very pleased at what Pulsar’s been able to add to the business,” Mr Peffer said.

“It’s added significant volumes across Australia to our network, and the name’s resonated very well.

“And absolutely there’s plenty of upside, but ... Corolla and Mazda3 are the pre-eminent leaders in that segment, they sell 3000 to 3500 cars per month. To go from ‘zero’ to that figure is unrealistic, not in a crowded market like we have here in Australia.

“Do we see growth? Absolutely, but it has to be organic growth on a trajectory and in a linear fashion it can’t be 0-3000, that’s not our intent.”

Mr Peffer said a major challenge would come not just from outside the company – in the form of new-generation rivals such as the next Mazda3, and aggressive campaigns on other models – but from within the company’s own rapidly growing local line-up.

“The biggest struggle I think that Nissan is going to have this year is now that we’ve got Pulsar out, you don’t have a long runway before the next model comes out,” he said.

“The cadence of new product is so fast that our struggle is going to be communicating with the Australian consumer that our showroom has changed, and how much we’ve refreshed the line-up.

“You don’t see normally a brand take its entire line-up and change it within a one or two year period, which is what we’re doing, in all the core segments.”

As reported, five new volume Nissans will arrive here by July 2014 – the regular Juke and Pathfinder (around October), Altima (around December) and new-shape X-Trail and Dualis (both second quarter of 2014).

“If you add up the segments that Pulsar, Pathfinder, Altima and Juke compete in, its almost 70 per cent of the TIV (total industry volume),” said Mr Peffer.

“Then by mid-next year, Dualis and X-Trail get refreshed. Not evolutionary product – but revolutionary product.”

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