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Reviving Datsun is no easy task for Nissan

After reviving the Datsun brand last year with the Datsun Go hatchback, Japanese car maker Nissan is now ready with a second car in the category: the Datsun Go+, which is being positioned as a cosy multi-purpose vehicle suitable for large Indian families.

With the new offering, the company hopes to break into the small-car market that is currently dominated by Maruti Suzuki and Hyundai Motor. The compact segment makes up for nearly 25 per cent of car sales in India, with Maruti Suzuki and Hyundai Motor together accounting for nearly seven of every ten cars sold in the category. Guillaume Sicard, president, Nissan India, hopes to buck that trend. With the Go+, he hopes to directly take on Maruti's Wagon R and Hyundai's i10, which are among the top-selling models in the compact car segment. "It is time for a new car," says Sicard, referring to the stronghold that Hyundai Motors and Maruti Suzuki have in India.

In fairness to Sicard, both the Datsun cars launched in India have received good reviews, especially as they come at a price well below the cheapest Nissan cars. "We are very happy about what's going on in India with the brand. So far, customers are very happy (with the Datsun brand). There is also a high level of satisfaction when it comes to driving, fuel efficiency and safety," says Sicard. The Automotive Research Association of India has certified the fuel efficiency of the Go+ at 20.6km per litre, more than the average efficiency (19.8 km per litre to 20.5 kms per litre) of other cars in the category.

Still, Sicard faces an uphill task in India. His foremost challenge is to re-establish the brand that has not been on people's minds for long now ( Datsun was discontinued in the 1980s). Despite the brand's history-at its peak in the 1970s, it dominated markets in Russia, South Africa and Indonesia-not many people seem to have heard of it in India.

Datsun Go At present, both the Datsun Go and Go+ are sold through Nissan's sales network and the company plans to separate the distribution network only after the brand becomes well established in its own right to generate enough sales. To promote the brand, an advertising campaign is in the offing and the marketing strategy is being overhauled as well. The company is also adding more sales points, especially in Tier I and Tier II cities, where the brand has very little presence.

By 2016, the company hopes to cover almost the whole of India with 260 sales point (from 125 now), about 100 of which will be small outlets. The expansion plan will be supported by new launches, the first of which, the Datsun redi-Go, is expected to be launched next year.

On the back of new launches, Sicard hopes to increase the market share to 4 per cent from 3 per cent now and then further to 6 per cent. However, the sales targets are being approached cautiously and Sicard refuses to set a deadline for meeting them. "There is a vision to reach 50,000 per year with Datsun. We need to take the necessary time to construct this market share," says he.

The current sales are a long way off. Since it was launched in March 2014, the company has managed to sell around 13,000 Datsun Gos so far. The sales have been mostly driven by keeping prices below the competition. The Datsun Go+, for instance, is priced between Rs 3.79 lakh and Rs 4.61 lakh in Delhi, in comparison to Rs 3.64 lakh to Rs 5.80 lakh of other cars in the same category. However, many believe Nissan is putting its sustainability at stake by pricing its cars aggressively in order to gain market share. Also, if the cars don't generate enough sales, Nissan could risk endangering the brand once again.

Sicard, though, is confident that the Datsun Go+ will do well. "The price makes it a smart buy for customers looking for more value, style, space and flexibility. As a compact multi-purpose vehicle, the Datsun Go+ is a segment creator. We're breaking the convention, and consumers are up for it," he says.

Experts believe that the Datsun Go + will be preferred by people who are looking to use the car for both personal and commercial purpose, and so will generate more sales in rural and semi-urban areas than the metros where cars are mostly used for personal transit. The company is not categorising the car based on demographics. It is just pinning its hopes on its bigger, roomier interiors to drive sales.