Nissan Australia says it might have become excessively focused on SUVs and light commercials, to the detriment of its passenger car range.
In 2014, a year where Nissan overall sales dropped 14 per cent, its passenger sales fell 30 per cent to 15,827 units — fewer than Honda, Mercedes-Benz and Kia.
The decline in 2015 is even more marked, given the company as a whole is up 20 per cent — five-times the overall market rate — but its passenger cars are down 16 per cent to 3036, fewer than Subaru, Suzuki, BMW and even Audi.
In fact, this year only one-in-six Nissans sold has been a conventional passenger car. Nissan’s total volume is 17,569, almost half of which are the X-Trail and Qashqai combined.
Sure, its a general macro trend to see SUVs eating into passenger cars, and a lot of brands are suffering — but few to the same degree as Nissan.
“If there was one thing that if I sit here in four years time I'd like to be judged on it's what we can do with passenger cars, because it's clearly our achilles heel at the moment,” Nissan Australia managing director Richard Emery said to us this week.
“It’s a combination of the offerings for sure, but… we've also become a little bit over-focused on SUVs and light commercials, and we just need to re-focus ourselves and our dealer network on being a believer in our passenger car line-up.”
What Emery seems to be getting at here is that, while Nissan his clearly not blessed with an earth-shattering passenger range, it needs to re-focus its dealers to at least attempt to push them — even if it isn’t projecting a major turnaround in the immediate future.
Some changes have been made. This week, Nissan launches its revised Micra, with a simplified two-variant range, a price cut at the top and the addition of more equipment. But Nissan isn’t expecting huge sales growth here —the car is what it is.
But it can at least target its buyers better. Like Mazda and Ford, Nissan is encouraging is retailers to be a little careful of mass discounting or heavy rental and fleet deals that erode resale values. As we know, Nissan is no longer chasing huge volume as its only priority.
“We got caught up in some business that was probably uneconomic for us,” Emery said, pointing to said rental deals. “Our [Micra] volumes last year certainly went down… we also had some inherent issues with the way the car was specced.
“It’s clear we need to keep it, it's an important car and long-standing nameplate. Is it going to romp away with volumes? No it’s not.”
Ditto Pulsar. Emery conceded the European version (pictured below) would be a nice addition, but said the big issue was currency. It’s only made in Spain (the different car that we get is made in Thailand), and that would make it expensive.
Furthermore, Nissan won't add complexity by selling the Euro one alongside the Thai one. It's a 'one or the other' proposition, only.
See the UK-made Honda Civic hatch for an example of the cost impediments, or Hyundai’s recent problems with securing the new-generation i20for our market. The weakening dollar is biting, and the Small Car segment is highly cost-sensitive.
“My answer to [Euro Pulsar] would be, if it gives us enough of a volume advantage and branding advantage, we’d obviously consider it. But it comes with a higher cost base, coming out of Europe," Emery said.
“It might be seen as a refresher car — in the sense there’s a little bit of a body change — but if it doesn’t substantially change our positioning, we have to put the price up to take it, there may not be much of an advantage. So at the moment I'm sticking with what we’ve got.”
What he has is an underperforming car, considering its famous badge. It runs at about one-quarter of the volume of the Toyota Corolla and Mazda, on a good month.
“You’ve got to be realistic about what a car can offer,” Emery said. “As I said to the network two weeks ago, by restructuring and re-specifying the range it’s not going to be a Corolla or Mazda 3 in terms of volume. Are we going to able to sustain between 900-1200 a month? Absolutely.”
Last week, Nissan announced its re-aligned Pulsar range, adding more spec, better value and introducing a new SSS sedan.
“That [old] line up in terms of spec and model offerings wasn't competitive,” Emery admitted. “I don’t mean against the rest of the segment [either] — some models weren't competitive with each other.
“We were caught in the trap of having some of the upper-spec Pulsar models being overpriced with the lower models.”
In terms of the Altima, it competes in a static (in terms of volumes) mid-sized sedan and wagon segment, and has a vast swathe of new models to compete with.
This year, we’ve seen new versions of the Subaru Liberty, Hyundai Sonata, Mazda 6 and Ford Mondeo. The new Kia Optima and Volkswagen Passat are imminent.
Furthermore, the gorgeous new Nissan Maxima is a left-hand-drive only car now, so that’s a no-go for Australia.
Nevetheless, Emery promises we’ll see some exciting new cars emerge before 2020, some of which are presumably aimed at addressing Nissan’s passenger car problem. Time will tell.