Nissan Almera: Too little, too late?By Botchi Santos
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Last Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013, Nissan finally unveiled the All-New Nissan Almera, their newest entry into the highly competitive B-segment market. There’s a whole lot to be impressed with the Almera indeed: a size that is significantly larger than the rest of its peers, matched with an extremely roomy interior that is a step above most Nissans we’ve come to expect in terms of both design and quality, matched with a price that starts at P712,000 for the base model 1.5 manual.
The Almera’s key competitors in the B-segment market—the most competitive passenger-car market representing the bread-and-butter of the industry—will be the Honda City, Toyota Vios and Hyundai Accent, Ford Fiesta and Mazda 2. These are all sedans with a very established market position, a strong following and, in the case of Toyota and Honda, loyal customer bases that tend to buy the newer models.
It is admirable for Nissan to be locally manufacturing the Almera in its plant in Santa Rosa, Laguna. Both the LGU of Santa Rosa as well as the national government, along with representatives from the Taiwanese Cultural and Economic Attaché (Yulon, Nissan Motor Philippines Inc.’s principal, is from Taiwan) plus a representative from Nissan Motors Ltd. were all present, making a big show of things. Impressive car, impressive launch, with an impressive show of support by all parties concerned. Even the local media, comprising business, lifestyle and motoring beats, were also impressed and pleased with NMPI’s newest offering.
But is it really enough? Not just in terms of addressing a particular segment in the motoring industry, but to make Nissan desirable again, a worthy alternative to the likes of Toyota and Honda?
I have yet to try the Almera so I cannot comment on how it performs against its competitors, but it definitely looks promising.
I guess my core focus is, will the Nissan Almera make the Nissan brand, as a whole, desirable again?
Looking at Nissan’s vehicle lineup overseas, they have a whole lot of Nissan vehicles that are unique, desirable and truly awe-inspiring—from Nissan’s exotic-bullying R35 GTR (often
erroneously referred to as the Skyline even if it is the spiritual successor to the GTR line), to the sexy 370Z, the fun and funky-looking, but surprisingly practical and versatile and on to the highly popular Micra/March small cars that have made a name for themselves in Europe and in Japan. In the US, the Altima soldiers on as an affordable sports sedan for the masses, while the Versa is a sporty hatchback slowly becoming popular on the race tracks, thanks to Nissan USA’s motorsports support. The Nissan XTerra would make for a very popular alternative to the Toyota Prado and Mitsubishi Pajero, perfect for people who want a more sophisticated SUV from the usual ladder-frame-based crop of SUVs and pickups, but don’t want to spend more than P4 million on one. There’s an endless supply of Nissan vehicles that can be sold locally to improve the brand’s image overall.
Almost every car manufacturer, it seems (Nissan not being the only one), misunderstands the local car market. The reality is that the market is evolving, diversifying itself further, creating smaller niche markets that demand very specific and particular needs. The local real-estate environment also influences this. People are either moving into smaller residential condominium units with small-sized car ports or moving to the suburbs down south and to some up north. We all need fuel-efficient cars with a small carbon foot-print, but some people need something bigger than your typical four-door sedan/five-door hatchback but can’t afford an SUV. As an example, Nissan’s Cube would fit this segment perfectly, for example, like Toyota/Scion’s BB. Sure, a Toyota Avanza/Innova can also do the same job, but it’s not as sophisticated as a Cube or the BB. This is my point.
Taken to an opposite extreme, there are, by my best estimates, over 100 units of the almighty Nissan R35 GT-R in the country since it became available in mid- 2009. And that number is slowly growing, with specialty shops like Emperor Motorsports, DTM Motorsports and Autoplus Sportzentrium making a name for themselves as qualified GTR service centers. That’s something like 30 units sold each year. I’ve spoken to many more enthusiasts who claim that as much as they love the R35 GT-R, without the support of an official local dealership servicing it, they are afraid to be stuck with a white elephant.
Nissan has the ability to not only introduce a car that is relevant to the market at the financial level, but relevant at an emotional level. You can sell cars indeed purely at a rational level, i.e., selling them cheap. But it will do little to improve your brand equity, get good PR and image, and, ultimately, get people really interested to flock to your showrooms. Well, that’s my own humble opinion of the matter. But as proof of this, look at Toyota. Their 86 caused such an uproar that the dealerships were mobbed by curious punters and onlookers. While most of them never did buy an 86, it allowed Toyota sales agents to capture their market (literally) and espouse all their sales promos, precisely because people were already inside their showroom floors. Many ended up buying other Toyota vehicles, but the key point is, it got the people inside and allowed agents to interact directly, with a minimum of fuss and hassle.
There is light at the end of the tunnel for Nissan. Carlos Ghosn promised that Nissan would build a rival for the 86, an affordable basic sports car some hacks have coined the Silvia S16 as a continuation of Nissan’s revered S-chassis lineup from the S12, S13, S14 to S15 Silvias. Perhaps when it comes out in two-three years, Nissan can do a Toyota? But who will get it? Nissan Motor Philippines, or the OTHER Nissan distributor, Universal Motors Corp. Sounds like a soap opera/drama in the making.