I read a fascinating article recently about Datsun. Many readers over a certain age will remember the name. It was the marque that Nissan used in many countries until someone decided that the parent name was better. The iconic Z series started out as a Datsun and the marque had a great name in racing and rallying until the mid 80s when a corporate boffin dropped the nameplate.
As many will also know, Nissan and Renault have had a merger of equals for years, sharing components, factories and designs as a way of reducing costs and providing quality across several nameplates – remember Infiniti is the luxury arm of Nissan in many countries.
So, Datsun is making a comeback in several countries. There has been a global realisation that the market needs to have a base nameplate and then mid, luxury and super-luxury brands. Many companies offer a low cost range of products and then have products for the other classes and this can complicate the branding as some see an overall brand fitting in a particular segment and then get disappointed when they buy a base model.
Renault-Nissan figured out two things:
1. People do get confused with a brand spreading itself too thinly and so it is logical to distinguish brands in a group.
2. Buyers in one country don’t necessarily want a car designed for another. As Vincent Cobee, the boss of Datsun was quoted at the Geneva Motor Show: “People only want to pay for what they want — not what somebody in another country wants. What is important to Indian consumers? It’s interior space, exterior compactness, price, styling, fuel economy, reliability, engine size and that’s it. But what’s important in Indonesia? It is seven-passenger seating. For Russians? It’s high speed, vibration isolation, a very large trunk and the ability to withstand the cold. Heating isn’t important in Indonesia. So why would you create one model for all markets?”
Their answer is to bring the brand in emerging countries like Latin America, India, Africa and Indonesia where car ownership can grow at the lowest price point. Being part of a bigger conglomerate means that the brand can design cars specifically for a market and then raid the corporate parts bin for all the components. The only “local” piece would be the shell that everything is bolted or glued to.
The other important factor is that the cars can be built in established local factories that may be struggling to sell the premium or mid range brands, so there is local capacity to build cars under a specific sales price point and for Datsun this is US$7,000 per unit.
Russia was the test bed for the revamped brand building a unique model called the on-DO. It was designed and tested in Japan and then modified for the Russian market using components that they knew would survive the conditions – far different from the market where it was designed! That work was done locally in Russia. It uses a common Renault-Nissan platform with a modified gearbox to suit the roads and most components come from somewhere in the group. The car itself is being built in the avtoVAZ factory – Renault own that brand too.
37 dealers were appointed in Russia, presumably existing dealers of the group and within two months of the launch of the on-DO it was selling 5,000 a month making it a top seller in the market.
India is another target market where Datsun have sold 13,000 cars since entering the country 10 months ago. They were hoping for 50,000 units a year, however they are finding it tough with other cheap cars in the market already. There are already over 150 dealers in India and they want to double that – competing against Tata, Maruti Suzuki and Hyundai.
It is doubtful that we will see a new Datsun in the US, Europe, Japan or Australia because these markets are established and buyers want more features and functions for their money. However, that’s not a bad thing – sometimes its great to travel and see a new product that you can’t buy at home!