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Nissan shifts India gears


Sunny, launched last month, was Nissan’s fifth car in India in four years. The car maker is now on an overdrive and is planning at least four launches in the next one year.

If Sunny, priced at around Rs 5.78 lakh, will compete with Maruti SX4, Chevrolet Aveo and Fiat Linea (a diesel version will follow in the next few months), Nissan has decided to take the predictable route – the small car, which is a must-have for all car companies wanting to succeed in India.



It plans to launch a compact car positioned below the Micra, which will allow it tap the segment of around Rs 3.5 lakh. The car has been under development for the past one year and Nissan expects to showcase it in 2013-14.

“Demand for diesel models has been evolving at a rapid pace in India. We have the 1.5 litre diesel engine on the Micra now but we have to look for something smaller than that for the future. May be it could be a 1.1-1.2 litre engine,” says Satoshi Matsutomi, vice president, product planning and program management office, Nissan Motor India.

Besides small cars, Nissan is aiming to address the other segments in the market as well. At the upcoming international Auto Expo to be held in New Delhi, the company will showcase a multi-purpose vehicle (a multi-seater van), aimed at attracting buyers who like to travel in groups and to address the commercial demand from hoteliers.

Although the exact positioning of the vehicle is not yet clear, the multi-purpose vehicle (MPV) will target customers who are now opting for Mahindra’s Xylo, Toyota’s Innova and Tata’s Aria. The vehicle is based on a modified platform of a van sold by Nissan internationally.

“Nissan’s brand needed to be established; so the company introduced a sports car, a premium SUV and sedan. Nissan did not hurry its launches and this strategy has paid off well for the company. The top-down brand building ploy worked well for Micra,” says an analyst based in Delhi.

The Japanese carmaker, which had a market share of 0.80 per cent till September and sold 13,000 units last financial year, has beefed up technology and looking for strong distribution tie-ups.

It has been working with Defiance Technologies, a Hinduja Group Company for sourcing engineering and IT services for the small car. While the Micra will continue to compete against Maruti’s Swift, the new compact car will take on Hyundai’s i10, Ford’s Figo and Maruti’s Wagon R.

Nissan India presently has five models under its fold, two of which are made in its Chennai factory. Five of the nine models will be made in the same factory. It is preparing to launch one more product through the imported route next year. Sources say that a Juke crossover is likely be brought to India.

Further, to avoid complications relating to distribution especially when it launches the small car, Nissan is said to be keen on bringing the sales, service and marketing company, Hover Automotive India, under its control.

Hover Automotive India (HAI) has already started laying the ground work for the small car entry, beefing up its expansion of sales outlets. It sells Nissan cars through a small network of 40 outlets but aims to add another 60 before the end of next year.

Moez Mangalji, chairman, Hover Automotive India, says, “If any proposal of bringing Nissan as an equity partner in Hover is put forward, we would be happy to have them. However, there has been no such proposal as yet.”

Sources say that Nissan will pick up substantial stake in HAI before the launch of the small car. A mail sent to Nissan India seeking reply on the same remained unanswered.

Riding on the success of Sunny, which grossed 659 unit sales in the first nine days of launch Nissan hopes to more than triple sales to 40,000 units by March.

Micra, its premium hatchback priced around Rs 4.10 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi), saw sales of a little less than 1,500 units last month. Sales of the Micra were mostly centered around the urban areas due to limited presence of sales outlets.

To grab a pie of the growing market of mid-segment sedans – petrol being costlier than diesel in India due to the subsidy element – several car makers have kickstarted efforts to make arrangements for diesel engines. Companies like Maruti Suzuki, Volkswagen, General Motors, Honda, Nissan to name a few have started developing engines themselves.

General Motors recently launched the smallest diesel engine in India strapped on the Beat hatchback. The diesel variant of the car has been well received in the market, according to General Motors.

Exports will remain as the focus area for the company, according to company executives. About 85 per cent of its production is exported. The Sunny and Micra will form the backbone of Nissan’s export strategy.