On Wednesday night, Nissan Motor Philippines Inc. (NMPI) will launch the Nissan Almera, in the Rizal Ballroom of the posh Makati Shangri-la Hotel. Before this, NMPI had been advertising the Almera in the print media, inviting readers to go to the nearest Nissan dealership for a test drive. No other newly arrived Nissan vehicle in recent years has received such a lavish launching and marketing campaign from NMPI, making people wonder whether the Almera is really worth all the fanfare.
That’s because the Almera is a plain, low-cost subcompact sedan, not a sporty or stylish ride. The first-generation Almera—taken from Almendra which means a large diamond in Spanish—was introduced in 1995. Nine years later in 2004, Nissan launched the Versa as a premium compact car carrying the name Tiida. The third-generation Almera, no longer using the Tiida platform, was unveiled at the 2011 New York Auto Show as the 2012 1.6-liter Versa. The 2013 Philippine version of the Versa/Almera is what NMPI is launching Wednesday night.
The Almera ads and press releases always cite its global sales record of 500,000 units to date. In an e-mail interview, NMPI president and CEO Allen Chen also cited this number, adding that the Almera has become Nissan’s global best-selling sedan. Chen said that in the Philippines, the Almera will be available in three variants “to provide a broader choice for our customers: the 1.5L base manual (P710,000), 1.5L base automatic (P760,000) and 1.5L mid-automatic (P830,000). ”
All the variants will have as standard equipment Nissan’s HR-15 1.5-liter engine with Continuously Variable Valve Timing Control (CVTC), dual airbags, ABS with Electronic Brake Distribution and either a 4-speed automatic transmission or a 5-speed manual gearbox. Chen revealed that NMPI is targeting sales of 250 units a month, “which will give us a significant share in the 1.5 category of the B segment. However, the price positioning of the Almera 1.5 Base of P710,000 will also give us penetration into the 1.2 and 1.3 market (among buyers) who are looking for more value in a car.”
250 A MONTH. The Almera is readily available at NMPI dealerships nationwide for test-driving and purchase because it is “proudly assembled as CKD at the Nissan Technopark in Santa Rosa, Laguna,” according to Chen. “Initially, we are looking at 250-units-a-month production but we are confident of increasing our market share in the B segment and may increase our production volume further… (Our competitors) are mainly the B-segment models Toyota Vios, Honda City, Hyundai Accent. However, I won’t be surprised to see a bit of crossover from C segment buyers who are after value.”
This is because, Chen claims, the Almera “offers space, comfort and features of a full-size C sedan at a B-segment price … Looking at the base model, for example, for a few more pesos, you can get a car that offers more space, more safety features and a lower maintenance cost of ownership over a period of five years. With the Almera midgrade, you get more comfort with rear comfort fans unique in its class. So we made sure that the price versus value proposition was very strong for the All-New Almera….If one looks at the price positioning, it becomes clear that we have positioned our pricing not only competitively but below the SRP of most of our competitors.”
What Chen says about the Almera’s roominess is validated. The Almera has 90 cubic feet of interior volume and its trunk has 14.6 cubic feet of cargo space. Test-drive reviews here and abroad invariably praise the Almera’s exceptional rear legroom, its “value and interior roominess” and that it is “a lot of car for a little bit of money.”
But won’t the Almera grab market share from the Sentra? Chen doesn’t believe so. “The Almera is a subcompact sedan, targeted to a young market which may be buying a car for the first time, young families looking for a car that provides ample space or young successful individuals who are more keen on styling and functionality to address their lifestyle. With its specifications, the Almera brings new dynamics to the vital mainstream market by offering an upscale feel and C-segment spaciousness but at a B-segment price. On the other hand, the Sentra caters to fleet and maybe more traditional and entry model buyers. We actually look at the Almera as complementary to the Sentra as we have more cars that will allow us a broader appeal to passenger car buyers.”
ONE OF FEW. Asked why NMPI decided to assemble the Almera when it is already manufactured in Thailand and Malaysia, Chen replied: “NMPI is one of the pioneers in the Philippine automotive industry that have stayed on and survived the challenges of the past three decades. We are one of the few automotive companies that have even sustained investments in order to achieve. Our goal is to help support local manufacturing. We have invested in a manufacturing facility and we see fit to utilize it and have an impact on the local economy by providing jobs and developing local suppliers as well. The Almera is a source of pride for all of us at NMPI, since it is being assembled by Filipino workers at the Nissan Technopark, a sprawling 236,439-square-meter facility in Santa Rosa, Laguna. Other car manufacturers have come and gone, but we are among the few car manufacturers that continue to weather the challenges of the local automotive industry. The Almera shows our continued confidence in the Philippine automotive market. To date, we operate more on the assembly of completely knocked down (CKD) than in importing completely built-up (CBU) vehicles. In addition to the Almera, we also assemble the Grand Livina Highway Star, Sentra and X-Trail locally.”
Chen admits that NMPI’s share in the local automotive market has been weak as they did not have the necessary product line to compete effectively in the B segment. “With the Almera, however, we are confident that we will have greater impact on the growing B segment,” he said. “However, we are not betting our future only on one model. The buying public can expect more from Nissan Motor Philippines in the coming months and years. The All-New Almera is a global platform, and you will be seeing more of this kind of platform-sharing for Nissan as it pursues its goal of increasing its presence in global markets as part of Nissan’s Power 88 drive.”
Nissan’s Power 88, a business plan for fiscal years 2011-2016 announced by Nissan Motor Co. president and CEO Carlos Ghosn in Yokohama in June 2011, aims to achieve a global market share of 8 percent and increase corporate operating profit to a sustainable 8 percent.
Among the Nissan road map’s highlights is the focus on sustainable mobility and “Mobility for All” with dedicated new cars and light commercial vehicles developed for entry-level segments and emerging markets. Looks like the local assembly and intro of the Almera is the first step in Nissan’s Power 88 Plan for the Philippines.