Pierre TRAN, Sun, 24 Sep 2006 08:00:00 PDT
Nissan chose a disused red brick factory in this shabby Paris suburb to launch last Sept. 6 its highly styled Qashqai car, a wannabe SUV which the Japanese company hopes will drive the VW Golf off the charts as Europe's best selling car.
Amid a booming techno beat and a screen countdown, Nissan chief executive Carlos Ghosn unveiled the Qashqai, a blend of sports and SUV styling, but without the gas guzzle and aggressiveness of a real sport utility vehicle.
Nissan needs a sales boost, with European sales plunging 15.9 pct in the first seven months of the year. The company hopes this unconventionally styled car will win the family driver who dreams of SUV ownership.
"We also expect Qashqai to create a shift in the market, with 80 pct of customers coming to Nissan for the first time," Ghosn said as he rattled off a highly polished speech.Qashqai is the name of a nomadic Iranian tribe.
Nissan is investing E300m ($384m, 204m) in the car, which will be built in Sunderland, northern England, and expects to roll out 100,000 units a year.The new car is Nissan's first attempt at a European design, the product of its Paddington design centre in Britain, aimed at winning the heartland of the Europe's medium sized car market, said Paul Wilcox, Nissan Europe's marketing vice president.
"Nissan is a niche player in Europe," said analyst Eric Micheles of SG Securities. But even as a small producer in Europe, Nissan cannot afford to be absent from the medium segment, the industry's biggest sector, accounting for around 35 pct of sales.
Nissan needs to differentiate itself, given the stiff competition from the Golf, Renault Megane and Peugeot 307. Nissan cannot afford a "me too Golf," Micheles said.That segment "has been about conventional cars that offer conventional performance competent but uninspiring, predictable and passionless," Ghosn said.
For distinctiveness, Nissan's design team has come up with a "crossover compact" styling, which combines the SUV's high side with a sleek sloping roof of a sporty hatchback.The design responded to customers' conflicting desires for security, stability and sporty athletism, Ghosn said.
Nissan needs more than offbeat style to make money."All the art lies in making a distinctive car at reasonable cost," Micheles said. Nissan has to price the car competitively against the Golf, which is the car to beat.
Nissan executive vice president Carlos Tavares said the Qashqai shares a platform essentially the chassis with parent company Renault, which means 40 50 pct of costs shared. That cuts financial risk and increases the chances of the Qashqai being a cash cow instead of a black hole, Micheles said.
Sales start in February in the Europe, including the U.K., and Nissan will export the Qashqai to Japan, the Middle East and other markets.
Prices are not fixed yet but the average European price is likely to be around E23,000, with the entry price below E20,000 for the two wheel drive model, a Nissan executive said.
Two petrol and two diesel engines are offered, with manual, automatic, and continuous variable transmission, a high end automatic which gives fuel efficiency of a manual gearbox.