Nissan’s claim of aiming to be the number one importer shows its ability, but to do so will require it to focus on the bigger picture
There are companies that like passenger cars and light commercial vehicles, and there are others that appear to have pre-set preferences that result in them focusing on one to the detriment of the other.
For Nissan Australia, any light commercial focus has been confined in recent years to that of the Navara, its sole entrant in the commercial vehicle world downunder. The Navara has been a solid performer but it has to be said that, in the global world of Nissan, there are more tools in the shed that could have been brought out on display.
In overseas markets, Nissan has been able to offer a wide range of vans and chassis cabs ranging up to light trucks. For our market though, there’s been little evidence that company executives had any interest in expanding their offering or promoting the merits of added diversity. Occasionally they talked the talk, but they’ve been reticent to walk the walk. The result is a missed opportunity for the company and its dealer group to increase the variety of profitable products in their portfolio.
The Navara is indisputably a good, solid performer. Sales performance within the 4×2 segment has been somewhat disappointing, with total registrations during 2011 of just 1,513 vehicles, scoring a market share of 2.9 percent and dropping 13.4 percent over the previous year’s performance.
Just to put this level of performance into perspective, the Mitsubishi Triton 4×2 sold 5,891 units, Mazda BT-50 4×2 scored 5,122 units, and Nissan was almost eclipsed by newcomer to the market, Isuzu Ute, with its D-Max 4×2 selling 1,118 units.
All the marketing effort of Nissan, in terms of the light commercial market, went into publicising the 4×4 version, and here it has had considerable success.
With a sales performance of 20,162 registrations and a market share of 20.2 percent, it achieved second place in the market, following in the footsteps of industry stalwart the Toyota HiLux with 28.2 percent of the market and sales volumes of 23,725 units. In this segment it was a case of role reversal for Mitsubishi and its Triton against Navara, with its 4×4 versions selling 11,297 units for a market share of 11.3 percent.
There are some signs that Nissan is being shaken out of its complacency, probably as the result of new entries from Volkswagen with the Amarok that have joined the market complete with five-star crash safety ratings - something that Nissan had not been able to achieve for itself. With Ford and Mazda bringing in their new products of the Ranger and BT-50, Nissan stood to lose substantial market share if it failed to take action.
The result of Nissan’s awakening is to see new equipment upgrades across the Navara D40 range, a new V6-engined Navara ST-X dual cab now priced at $56,990, a new 450 Nm and 140 kW engine ST Dual Cab and the inclusion of Vehicle Dynamic Control (VDC) and three-point seat belts for all passengers.
The flagship engine in the Navara range has been the turbocharged V6 diesel engine that produces 550 Nm of torque and a performance level of 170 kW. This is a formidable engine, and matched to a seven-speed automatic transmission it is both smooth and impressive. Up until now though, pricing has been at the high end, restricting its inclusion in the shopping list of the average Aussie ute buyer.
Chopping $4,000 from the original price in 2011 of the V6-engined options, Nissan is now offering this excellent engine for 2012 in the Dual Cab ST-X 4×4. At $56,990 it’s still no steal, but it’s a definite improvement. That said, the upper level specification of the ST-X 550 4×4 for 2012 comes with an asking price of $62,990, back to the high end and of appeal to those that want a fashion statement as well as a workhorse.
The more affordable Navara D40 ST Dual Cab 4×4 has been upgraded by adding the 2.5-litre, four-cylinder diesel engine that produces 450 Nm of torque at 2,000 rpm with maximum power of 140 kW at 4,000 rpm. Safety levels are improved by the addition of six airbags, and all D40 models now enjoy a four-star crash safety rating.
It’s unfortunate that the high purchase price of the V6 diesel puts these two versions of the Navara up at the $56,990-$62,990 bracket, but even the 2.5-litre four-cylinder Dual Cab ST ute is expecting a return of $49,050 when ordered with the five-speed automatic transmission. The manual version comes in with a saving of some $2,250.
As an overview of the Navara D40 range, it starts with the RX 4×2 ute. Power comes from a 2.5-litre, four-cylinder that produces 106 kW of power and 356 Nm of torque and is mated to a five-speed auto or six-speed manual transmission.
The RX 4×4 in ute or chassis-cab form uses a 2.5-litre diesel but with outputs of 126 kW and 403 Nm of torque.
The ST 4×4 dual cab 4×4 ute shares the same engine with the RX 4×4 and then buyers take the step-up to the ST-X 4×4 and ST-X 550, both of which now incorporate the V6 diesel with 170 kW of power and 550 Nm of torque.
Down in the entry-level jungle you’ll find the Navara D22 ST-R. Here, there is yet another differently rated four-cylinder diesel engine with a 2.5-litre producing a power output of 98 kW at 3,600 rpm and peak torque of 304 Nm rated at 2,000 rpm. At $33,990, the recommended retail pricing here is a far cry from the D40 V6, and it is only available with a five-speed manual transmission.
Before rushing out to grab what might appear to be a major price advantage, note that the D22 does not come with the ANCAP crash rating of four stars that is applicable to the D40 models only. The D20 carries only a three-star rating.
With no less than four different diesel engines and two distinctly different levels of safety and sophistication, the selection of the right vehicle for the task ahead remains a slightly complicated experience for the ute buyer.
Better communication and a wider range of products can create higher levels of showroom traffic. Adding a variety of vans of different size and weight capacity can underpin the future growth of Nissan and take it in new directions.
At the close of last year Nissan Australia recorded sales for the 12 month period of 67,926 units, reflecting an 8.4 percent growth over 2010.
The stated aim of its outgoing CEO Dan Thompson was to achieve market leadership amongst the other vehicle importers by mid 2013.
In achieving this goal, William Peffer, the new CEO and managing director of Nissan Australia has to broaden the company focus to reflect all aspects of demand and investigate new opportunities.