The head of Nissan Australia has acknowledged the brand's current lack of affordable emotional product, while claiming such models are not "imperative" at this time.
Speaking exclusively to CarAdvice ahead of this weekend’s Le Mans 24 Hour, Nissan Australia managing director and CEO Richard Emery said new entry-level sports car models would help the brand better its emotional position with buyers but aren’t critical to success.
“I don’t know whether we need them badly,” Emery said.
“Would it help that emotional brand connection? Absolutely. Is it imperative? No, I don’t think it’s imperative.”
Previously a go-to brand for sports car enthusiasts, with models such as the S14 and S15 200SX sold locally for around $40,000 – and iconic models such as the Pulsar GTi-R and R32, R33 and R34 Skyline GT-Rs brought into the country as grey imports – Nissan currently offers no legitimate performance option below the circa-$60K 370Z and circa-$180K GT-R.
With no rival to the likes of the Subaru BRZ/Toyota 86 or Mazda MX-5, as well as no genuine contender to challenge the Ford Fiesta ST, Peugeot 208 GTi, Renault Clio RS and Volkswagen Polo GTI, or larger Golf GTI or Ford Focus ST, Emery admits the marque has “missing links” in its current product line.
“[Nissan’s] global offering is reasonably thin at the moment.
“Does it have an impact on my drive to make the brand more of an emotional connection? No. It makes it a little bit harder but that just means you’ve got to work harder with what we’ve got.”
Despite lacking a “logical stepping stone structure”, as it had in the past with S-platform cars, Zed cars and GT-Rs, the local head says he’s not panicked about not having a new base sports model.
“Whether it be some sort of derivative of the work they did on IDx, a replacement for Zed [or] somewhere in between, I’m sure those are the sorts of products that are in the melting pot. But in terms of having one in the foreseeable future that might fit [this case], I don’t see one.
“If you’re asking me would I like to have something like that, of course we would, but at this point in time it’s not on the agenda.
“…You’ve got to work with what you’ve got. It’d be nice but I’m not bent out of shape over the fact that we don’t.”
Highlighting a past business phase – before his 2014 arrival into the top job – Emery says Nissan Australia has previously tried to secure as many models as possible with the result being too many models and the eventual axing of some of them (namely the Almera in mid 2014).
“We can’t be all things to all people,” Emery said.
“And I do have a view that less is going to be more in the future. So unless a car can provide either significant volume or significant emotional [pull] or adds personality to the business, then it’s going to be a hard case to justify."
Using the example of the initial sales boom and then following decline of the joint Subaru/Toyota 86 venture, the local head says long-term sustainability is always a key factor.
“Look, it’s easy to look at the Subaru BRZ and Toyota 86 in the first two years of their life cycle. You’ve got to judge it over seven or eight years. So, off to a strong start… Was that sustainable?
“And that’s the business case that a brand like Nissan would have to look at. To say well, can we make that work over a long time? And although it might work in isolation in Australia or the UK, if it doesn’t work across the globe then it’s hard to justify.”
On the upcoming next-generation GT-R, Emery says while it’s “certainly not in the foreseeable future” and packaging, mechanical and technical information remain unknown to him, it may not be faster and lighter than the current car – first launched in Japan in 2007.
“In terms of timelines, I think it’s one of those products that I could sit here today and say from what I know it’s certainly 2018/19, but then all of a sudden it might be 2017.
“The GT-R is long in gestation for obvious reasons and I think that’s because they take the car so seriously in the business. They hold it in such high esteem that it’s a very carefully guarded process in terms of what do you do next.
“I think they’ll be looking for the car to be clever, to be right up to the second. That won’t necessarily make it faster or quicker around the Nurburgring.
“They’ll be looking for clever innovation in the next car. I think the innovation that excites [philosophy] they take pretty seriously and I think GT-R’s always been the expression of that.
Nissan is this weekend tackling the Le Mans 24 Hour for the first time since 1999.