Nissan will launch a direct rival to the Ford Focus and Volkswagen Golf in 2014, and will build it in Sunderland. It will be the first time the Japanese manufacturer has offered a new car in the European small family hatchback class since 2006, when the Sunderland-built Almera was withdrawn.
Since then Nissan has marketed the Qashqai crossover, after it concluded in the early 2000s that it could only compete in the family car segment by offering something different.
It subsequently applied the same formula to the supermini segment, launching the Juke in 2010 to further sales success.
Following the success of those two models, company officials have said the firm has the confidence, and European market share, to offer a more mainstream model again.
The decision to go with a mainstream C-segment hatchback was made 18 months ago, according to Nissan’s head of product planning Andy Palmer, but the model is still two years from completion.
The new hatchback is expected to look similar to the current and next-generation Qashqai, as well as the production version of the Invitation concept - shown at the Geneva show earlier this year - which replaces the Note. “The designers have created a very emotional design that draws on the Qashqai,” said Palmer. “It’s a little bit cheeky.”
According to Palmer, Nissan will invest the car’s content and character with a mix of “innovation and excitement for everyone”, twin themes that are intended to resurface in every future model. He also said the car will be “beautifully designed, with exciting technology”.
Features are expected to include Nissan’s around-view monitor, a self-parking option, affordable satellite navigation and live music streaming.
The engine line-up is likely to include Renault’s recently revised 1.5 dCi diesel and downsized petrol power units, the three-cylinder 1.2 supercharged DIG-S potentially being among them.
Meanwhile, just a five-door bodystyle will be offered.
Nissan needs a new Focus rival if the company is to maintain its impressive momentum, which is currently over-dependent on the Qashqai and the Juke. Nissan’s UK sales were up almost 10 per cent in the first nine months of 2012, while its European share has also grown modestly.
The new hatchback should also offset the possibility that the next-generation Qashqai will fail to maintain the growth of the present model. Palmer admitted that replacement of the Qashqai is a challenge. “There’s always a risk, because you tend to be conservative when you’re replacing a successful model,” he said. “We need to create Qashqai-ness and be bold.”
The next Note should aid Nissan’s advance, too. “The Note is our B-segment play now, not the Micra,” said Palmer. “It’s designed to compete with the Fiesta. The Micra is a sister product that’s more grassroots and price sensitive.”
Like the current Note, the new model will be built at Sunderland alongside the Qashqai, Qashqai+2, Juke, Leaf and the new Focus rival.