Speaking exclusively to CarAdvice at this week’s build up to the 83rd Le Mans 24 Hour, Nissan Australia managing director and CEO Richard Emery said the Nismo brand is largely about trying to get Nissan “back into the emotional space”.
“Over the last five years, without motorsport and without other things Nissan used to do, we’ve become a rational brand,” Emery said.
“The emotional connection to the brand has been sold short I suppose.”
In France to support the Japanese marque’s first return to top-class racing at the 24 hour endurance race since 1999, the local head said apart from providing an opportunity for Nissan to reinforce its global motorsport program and highlight the links to Nissan Australia’s motorsport program (namely V8 Supercars), the event is also about creating an emotional connection.
“Nismo, motorsport and some of the other things we want to do over the next couple of years, is about creating an emotional connection back to the brand, which got lost,” Emery said.
“That’s why Nismo’s important. Nismo in motorsport is not really important in terms of bottom line, or heaps of extra volumes of sales. For us, it’s about brand emotional connectors.
“Let’s be honest, when you’ve got a brand that people are emotionally connected to, you tend to make more money out of them for a start, and they tend to make those decisions based on what you’ve got to offer rather than the price.”
In the top job since April 2014, Emery admits the local arm got into a cycle of driving its business based on price.
“We need to move that back toward value, innovation, features and some sort of emotional connection as well,” Emery said.
“Motorsport’s part of that, and Nismo is a logical extension of that.
“I have a firm view that Nissan does have latent personality or character that kind of got squished over the last couple of years – I don’t think it got negated.
“I don’t think people have a negative view toward Nissan, they just kind of have a vanilla view of what Nissan is.”
Convinced that a large number of Australians continue to have positive memories of Nissan’s production and racing cars, the Australian CEO believes the brand’s task now is to promote and reinforce those feelings further.
“…That’s clearly what we want to try and do.”
And how far off do they feel they are from getting there? “As an emotional percentage,” Emery says, “I reckon we’re probably 20 per cent away.”
“We’re not miles away. We haven’t destroyed the brand, the brand’s not invisible, it just needs to have some personality and some character added to it.
“It’s there, we just want to build some cream on top of it, so people say, ‘I know what Nissan is. My uncle had one. I had one. I learned to drive in an old Pulsar. They’re a good car.’
“We need that to be a little bit stronger. Is that another 10 per cent, or 15 or twenty? Hard to tell but it’s not miles away.
“…As long as we keep on reinforcing those messages people will see Nissan as a serious player in motorsport globally and then therefore the Australian program therefore becomes a natural progression or a natural extension of that.”
Blaming the initial delay in getting Nismo and official Nismo models onto local shores on past business circumstances and a lack of prioritisation from the local division, Emery says putting it back on the agenda was a key focus of his with the goal to reinvigorate the Nissan brand.
“We’ve acted to get our house in order I suppose, so we can make the most of bringing Nismo in.
“I didn’t want the business to see Nismo as some sort of Band Aid or cure aid for our other circumstances. Get the house in order first and then you can start using Nismo for what it is, and that’s an emotional brand connector rather than some sort of stop-gap measure to sell a few extra cars, which is not why we want to be in it, or should be in it.”
Keen to only bring in cars “genuinely deserving of the Nismo badge”, Emery says any initial three-car line-up – expected to comprise the Juke Nismo RS, 370Z Nismo and GT-R Nismo – will need to have growth potential beyond the “first phase”.
“It needs to be not just those cars. I need to have some confidence that there’s other cars coming as well.
“From my perspective, yes, there needs to be those jewels or the ‘real’ Nismo cars that you can feed off, and we probably need more than three.
“I suppose I’m hinting there that we’re aware that Nismo is working on other product lines, which I don’t think they’re being particularly secret about.
“Many brands take the shortcut to put alloy wheels and a stripe on the car and give it a brand. The Nismo brand’s a bit stronger than that so whatever cars we take need to provide some sort of performance improvement rather than just some go-faster-looking bits tacked onto the outside of the car.”
Fully aware that local interest in Nismo may not be as strong as in some overseas markets, Emery says there are still benefits of launching.
“There’s always a view that 80 per cent of the people out there won’t really care whether we have Nismo or not, but from my perspective it adds spice and interest on the showroom floors [and] reinvigorates our people.
“A bit of pride comes through in working for Nissan or working in a Nissan dealership, that they can have that little piece of jewellery on the showroom floor to drag customers in – maybe to drag in a demographic that probably see Nissan as a bit boring.”
Though a final green light on Nismo’s Australian launch is yet to be fully agreed upon, Emery says once “everyone puts thumbs up” it will all happen “relatively quickly”.
“It’s getting all key parties saying, ‘Yeah, let’s do it,” Emery said.
“Once we can see a window as to what that timeline is, then we of course, will go public with it.”
A decision on whether Nismo Australia will solely offer entire OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) specific product – whole cars – or also cater for the popular aftermarket world, will also be made closer to launch.