Back in 2004, we flew up to Nissan’s Sunderland plant to be given a briefing on the company’s brave new world.
After years of selling mainstream hatchbacks, Nissan’s European arm decided to concentrate on superminis and SUVs. During the briefing a teaser image of the upcoming 2005 Qashqai concept was flashed up on the screen.
Nissan’s logic was impeccable. The Primera – a brilliant car in its first two incarnations – had never sold in big enough numbers to make money. In fact, the three generations of Primera didn’t turn a profit.
Equally, the Nissan Almera was an also-ran in a market dominated by the Astra, Golf and Focus. Nissan figured that it did have first-class reputation in SUVs and that it could compete in the Golf-sector with a downsized, town-friendly, SUV.
Nissan was right. The Qashqai was mostly designed, engineered and conceived in the UK and has proved to have been a massive hit. It is sold around the world and is the 12th best-selling car in Europe of any type, shifting over 250,000 units. The Juke – a kind of B-segment off-road coupe – has also been a big sales hit, with around 135,000 sold in European in its first full-year on sale.
So why has Nissan announced today that it is going to plunge back into the cut-throat world of the mainstream European new car market? Senior Nissan UK people tell me that although the Qashqai is the fourth best selling model in the C-sector, it is still outsold by the Golf, Astra and Focus.
Nissan figures that ‘everyone who wants a compact crossover is buying one’ leaving a substantial chunk of the C-sector unexplored by Nissan. Because the new Golf rival is a world car, replacing the Nissan Tiida/Versa, installing a production line and other investments at Sunderland will cost a modest £130m.
Nissan can hoover up a modest number of C-sector sales and still hope to make a profit. Dealers will also benefit from being able to offer another model. Likewise, the Note replacement, recently previewed as the Invitation concept, will not be a pure B-sector MPV, but should also lean enough towards the norm to attract mainstream supermini buyers.
I suspect the back-to-basics Micra is struggling against the rather slicker Fiesta and Polo. Ultimately, it might be that the Qashqai (and even the Skyline) have done a great deal to revive the Nissan brand.
Ironically, it seems the plan to succeed outside the Euro-mainstream has worked so well, that Nissan can now re-enter it.