Nissan Australia says while it may have initially had Nissan Altima sales in mind when it decided to use the mid-sized sedan for its return to top-level local motorsport, that focus has now shifted, with the brand's V8 Supercars involvement delivering greater benefits for SUV and dual-cab ute sales.

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Nissan Australia managing director and CEO Richard Emery says that while motorsport absolutely laid the foundation for Nissan in Australia, “it’s not all about selling cars".

“It’s also about improving your brand standing,” Emery said at the local division’s 2016 motorsport season launch at the Phillip Island Grand Prix circuit.

Early on in the program, it was all about Altima – and I thought that was a mistake. So when I arrived [in April 2014] I changed the focus to being Nissan [overall]".

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“We painted the car in Nissan colours, and it became a Nissan entry, rather than an Altima entry.

“Altima just happens to be the vessel by which we can go into motorsport - we’re not going into motorsport because of Altima, if that makes sense.”

Claiming not to be disappointed with the impact the involvement in V8 Supercars has had on Altima sales since 2013 (3549 units over the last three years), Emery says he doesn’t make the direct link from V8 Supercars involvement to expected road car sales success.

“Because if you made the direct link, you wouldn’t bother,” Emery said. “That’s not why we’re there."

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“We believe Altima should be delivering more volume than it is. There’s all sorts of factors in that, some of them our own doing, some of them are the consequence of the market place at the moment. So, would I like to be selling more Altimas? Yes. Am I panicked? No.”

Although 2016 is, as yet, Nissan Australia’s last currently contracted season in V8 Supercars, the local head says motorsport is, and will continue to be, core to the brand both at a global and local level.

“[Motorsport] is part of our DNA of Nissan Australia," Emery said.

“We haven’t made a decision on what happens next [with V8 Supercars]. We’ll need to do that over the next couple of months.

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“Of course it’s nice to have on-track success but if you can be generating the sort of activation, the sort of content, we’re getting with our customers and fans, irrespective of what’s happening on track, that gives us real value in our investment and it says something about Nissan’s involvement in the sport and our interaction with our customers.”

Emery says even as the Australian market shifts away from passenger cars to SUVs, that shift doesn’t necessarily diminish the importance of passenger cars or the relevance of Nissan’s motorsport activities.

“Is motorsport becoming less relevant for Nissan in Australia? I wouldn’t say so, no,” Emery said.

In fact, according to Nissan Australia’s own research, its motorsport fans are overwhelmingly interested in SUVs and light commercial vehicles – namely the X-trail, Pathfinder and all-new twelfth-generation Navara (pictured below). The in-house data suggests that, among V8 Supercars fans, Nissan is actually ‘over indexed’ compared with its real-world market share.

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“Our market share at the moment is six per cent, but then people engaged in V8 motorsport, who are Nissan buyers, is nearer to eight per cent.

“Nissan owners tend to be more connected to V8 Supercars… and when you talk about what sort of cars they own, they own SUVs and Navaras – or vehicles in that category. So, bizarrely, V8 Supercars helps us engage with consumers who are likely to buy an SUV or a light commercial vehicle as much as it does with passenger cars.”

“I would say that we’ve found a way of maximizing our involvement in the sport, irrespective of how fast our cars are,” Emery said.

“My attitude is, in the last two years, we’ve found a way to make it financially work for us in terms of investment - win, lose or whatever. It’ll only accelerate the value if we start getting more and more podiums and win some races.”

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Praising the V8 Supercars series as the best current Australian motorsport platform to be involved with, Emery makes it clear that his job is to worry about Nissan.

“My first interest is Nissan and motorsport, not V8 Supercars. We’re in the sport to get the most out of it for Nissan.

“[Moving forward] I want to make sure we make the right decision for Nissan and for our involvement, and that’s what drives our decision making, rather than what’s good or not good for V8 Supercars as a sport.

“Irrespective of whether you think V8 Supercars is on the rise or not, it’s still the biggest game in town from a motorsport perspective. If [however] there was another category that provided similar commercial scope – in terms of national coverage and so on – and was within the Nissan ‘DNA’, then we’d be mad not to consider it.”

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Nissan’s assault on the 2016 V8 Supercars season kicks off in Adelaide on March 3, with a four-car, four-driver line-up.

Nissan is also set to defend its 2015 Bathurst 12 Hour title when this year’s iconic endurance race kicks off at Mount Panorama from February 5. Taking on a field of European cars and teams, the brand-new #1A GT-R Nismo GT3 – purchased by Nissan Australia – will be eagerly tracked by supporters via a live stream of the entire race on Nismo TV.

Images by David Zalstein and Tom Fraser.