Nissan in large part cut its teeth in Australia with a strong range of bush-ready vehicles, typified by the previous iterations of the Patrol wagon and cab-chassis.
Yet the company’s global shift away from this – think of the still-capable, yet luxury-focused petrol V8 Patrol, and the cushy monocoque Pathfinder crossover as examples – mean its local portfolio is conceptually quite different to what it once was.
You could even throw into the mix the NP300 Navara ute which, while still available in workhorse derivatives, has been marketed in large part with a focus on its more sophisticated coil-sprung rear and upmarket cabin for lifestyle buyers.
This is no great revelation, sure, and it’s hardly earth-shattering news that times and strategies alike may change. Yet Nissan Australia concedes its longstanding representatives in regional areas would like a little bit of that no-frills toughness to return.
“Certainly our rural and provincial dealers would prefer we had a wider product offering, because that’s where some of our more traditional customer and dealer base has been,” Nissan Australia managing director and CEO Richard Emery told us this week.
“… They, like us, would love to be selling more vehicles across a broader segmentation and for us to be able to provide them with a broader product offering,” he added, though also said regional buyers were increasingly shifting towards different buying patterns.
This is not just referring to rough-and-tumble bush-ready 4x4s either, but also passenger cars. After axing the ordinary Micra, Pulsar and Altima recently, Nissan covers less than 50 per cent of the market segment here.
“For a brand of our standing to be only represented in under half the market clearly gives us some missed opportunities,” Emery acknowledged.
Another thing that’s clear is that the pressure is firmly on. Chairman and CEO of the Renault-Nissan Alliance, industry megastar Carlos Ghosn, told media at an Australian visit last month that the companies “are not doing their fair share” here.
“I have a hard time understanding why Nissan cannot make more than six per cent market share in Australia,” he said.
One obvious candidate to help is the in-development Navara-based 4×4 wagon – conceptually the same therefore as the previous Pathfinder – to compete with the Ford Everest, Isuzu MU-X, Mitsubishi Pajero Sport, Toyota Fortuner and Holden Trailblazer.
The bad news is that, reading between the lines, Nissan’s development hub for the vehicle may be focusing on emerging markets, meaning getting a version that meets Australian safety and equipment standards at the right price seems unlikely.
“That’s certainly at this point in time not a live project,” Emery said.
Yet like all things, product cycles come in waves, and Nissan Australia’s hands are to some degree tied by global product development decisions.
One could reasonably expect Nissan’s recent acquisition of a majority stake in Mitsubishi to create opportunities, since sharing development costs and improving scale will improve business cases.
Though whether the much-hyped co-developed Patrol and Pajero will ever materialise remains a contentious issue, at least through external communications.
“Obviously it’s being killed by emissions [requirements]. If you look where the critical mass of those volumes have been, they’ve been in the US and the middle-east. It’s becoming quite prohibitive.”
For the foreseeable, it’s a product status quo.