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Wrap: Nissan does another 360

Next Maxima?: Nissan provided a quick glimpse of a “future medium sedan concept” to be unveiled early in 2014

Nissan outlines its present and future at ‘360’ extravaganza in the US

Nissan logo16 Sep 2013

By BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS in NEWPORT, USA

NISSAN held its mammoth ‘360’ event in Newport Beach, California last week – just the third in the company’s 80-year history.

Gathering hundreds of journalists from all over the world, it was a showcase of current global product, the chance to drive at least one example of everything the car-maker produces – including Infiniti and Nissan LCV light commercial vehicles and trucks - and a glimpse of future design and mobility ideas.

The latter also included a brief video outlining a medium-sized sedan concept to be released early next year. Our guess is the next-generation Maxima to replace the USA-only rear-drive model that sits above the Altima range. Will it star at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit in January? There was also a smattering of historically significant models, including the 1933 Datsun Model A, Mobilgas Australian rally trial winner Datsun 210, Datsun 240Z, and first Infiniti (1989 Q45).

Nissan took the opportunity to remind the media of its ‘Power 88’ plan of achieving an eight per cent profit and eight per cent market share worldwide by the end of 2016, boosted by the arrival of over 50 new models (averaging one every six weeks) and more than 90 “new advanced technologies” during that time.

The Australian media was number eight out of nine waves, but the timing was fortuitous because Nissan revealed the all-new third-generation X-Trail compact SUV that was also unveiled simultaneously at the Frankfurt Motor Show.

With around 130 vehicles to sample – most not available on the Australian market – there had to be a careful balancing act between news gathering and driving on one of the several set stages – including around an old air-force base, a 30-minute urban loop near Irvine (California), an extended 45-minute one through the nearby hills, an off-road course for 4x4s/SUVs, the Autonomous Vehicle experience and an LCV test.

Highlights included a one-minute track blast in one of just four of the ballistic Juke Rs – a baby crossover with a very cross GT-R drivetrain lurking underneath – in existence a drive in the new Infiniti Q50S Hybrid with drive-by-wire steering (the Germans ought to get scared) the evergreen Leaf EV, now updated with extra battery range the rorty three-pot turbo facelifted Micra DIG-S not destined for Oz the cuddly Cube the circa-1986 Nissan Pintara-like Cedric Tokyo taxi with both understeer and oversteer in the same turn the eNV200 electric minivan and – of course – the important new Altima midsizer and its closely related Pathfinder seven-seater SUV sibling.

Since the last 360 get-together held in Portugal in the middle of 2008, Nissan said the world has changed dramatically, and that it has had to move with the times in order to survive.

While there was the expected EV electric vehicle showcase centred around the Leaf – now reaching 75,000 sales globally to be the best selling car of its type of all time – Nissan also took the time to reveal its Autonomous Vehicle solutions, that takes active safety technology to the next level with driverless cars for the media to ride in.

Infiniti, too, came under the spotlight, with a detailed briefing of where the Nissan luxury brand is heading and why BMW and co. ought to look out, but the more interesting story is how the newly announced Datsun Go will be marketed.

Unfortunately the sole example was stationary so driving was verboten, and Nissan reminded Australians that there are absolutely no plans to bring the evocative brand to this market.

But the Micra-derived, sub-B Go – which will retail in the $A7000 region when launched in India, Indonesia, and then Russia next year - is designed to instil pride in first-time car owners, and not to fall in the same trap as Tata has with the Nano in reminding its upwardly aspirational target audience that they have bought the cheapest vehicle on the market. The Datsun comes with a smartphone docking station! Clearly the lack of crucial NCAP crash-test rating capability – as evidenced by wafer thing and ultra-light doors – will keep the Go from coming here, but the solutions Nissan employs to keep the Rupees down is clever – including a one-piece rear seat, single-arm wiper, and under-dash hand brake.

Fitted with a 1.2-litre engine and five-speed manual transmission, the surprisingly spacious body provides light and airy 2.5+3 seating, with the quasi-bench front seat capable of accommodating a child.

Speaking of international focus, Nissan boasted gleefully how fully half of its management team is non-Japanese – an uncomfortable statement in the presence of many company personnel from the home market, even though the point was to emphasise the wide-reaching diversity existing within the ranks, underlining a newfound flexibility to a rapidly changing world.

An example of the latter illustrated was Nissan’s fast response to the Japanese tsunami and earthquake as well as the Thai floods of 2011, and how the firm quickly got back on its feet.

The obligatory future environmental cause was trotted out, with ‘Blue Citizenship’ being Nissan’s current eco/sustainability catchphrase its EV emphasis remains an industry vanguard.

Finally, a commitment to zero road fatalities through new technologies such as the Autonomous Vehicle project was reiterated, with Infiniti as well as Nissan promising to bring out more exciting models soon.

With the Tokyo Motor Show in November looming, the small number of senior executives on hand could barely control their enthusiasm for what’s coming up shortly… especially after a few beverages besides the stunning 1966 Datsun Silvia….

Watch this space.

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