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Nissan's Maxima attack

Japanese story: The Maxima has been on sale in Japan for about a year badged as the Teana.

The latest generation of Nissan's mid-size prestige car will debut in Sydney

9 Oct 2003

NISSAN has a swag of new models in the pipeline, although crucially none of them are aimed at plugging gaping holes in the product line-up, and none include the brand image sharpening products from the US.

One of the most exciting products in Nissan America’s portfolio is the sharp-looking Murano, a mid-size soft-roader that would go head to head with the Lexus RX330, although offering a potential $10,000 saving on the Lexus RX330’s $70,000 price.

Nissan Australia will only get a look-in if the Japanese market decides to offer the Murano a home, and Australia gets some limited right-hand drive production.

Murano is off to a positive start in the US and would fit in the local line-up above Pathfinder and almost on a par with Patrol TI, although pitched at lifestyle buyers rather than rugged outback types.

From a buyer’s perspective, the first new model due in showrooms after the 350Z Roadster launched this week is the new Maxima.

Due in late October following its debut at the Sydney motor Show, the Maxima is aiming for a $40,000 price point.

The new sedan is built on the modular FM family platform shared with the 350Z sports vehicles and uses the 3.5-litre V6 engine, though somewhat detuned from the 206kW in the two-seaters.

Expect about 170kW, front–wheel drive and pricing to be “competitive” with Honda’s just launched Accord V6.

The Maxima has been on sale in Japan for about a year badged as the Teana and is available there with a 2.5-litre V6. This model is not expected to join the range at this stage.

Nissan expects Maxima sales to settle at about 300 a month. “Every time we launch a new Maxima, the (average monthly) volume goes up,” Nissan Australia managing director Leon Daphne said.

The Maxima will come with a high level of specification with which to rival Mitsubishi Verada, Toyota Avalon and Subaru Liberty, clothed in a radically angular body that bears strong traces of the 350Z DNA.

But it is not as aggressively or as dynamically styled as the Maxima model sold in the US, which has a far more sporting look.

Nissan has been selling Pulsar strongly from the $19,990 price point almost since launch and, according to Mr Daphne, has no plans to move from there for the life of the current generation.

The Pulsar will be replaced by an all-new modelbased around the architecture of the Renault Megane II, though the vehicles will share no visible metalwork. The new Pulsar is expected to bow in as a glitz-encrusted concept car at the Tokyo motor show in late October, before going on sale in Japan in mid-2004 with a Q1 2005 local launch date.

Both hatch and sedan versions will be sourced from Japan, unlike at present where the (more expensive) Pulsar hatch comes from the Nissan plant in Sunderland, UK.

Fans of Australia’s once most affordable hot-hatch, the Pulsar SSS, may have to cool their heels indefinitely, unless another right-hand drive market expresses substantial enthusiasm for a tuned 2.0-litre sports model.

The Skyline GT-R super car is on Nissan’s shopping list should it become available, although this may come in only as a low volume special.

Mr Daphne said he was well aware of the difficulties of selling Nissan vehicles with a price tag in excess of $100,000, a task made harder by the plethora of used imports flooding into Australia, many of which are previous generation go-faster Nissan coupes.

There are also no plans to bring in the Micra light car, built in Britain and Japan, as it is too expensive to compete in the $14,990 segment of the light car market. Toyota now holds sway here, thanks to free air-conditioning on its ageing Echo.

Even Honda’s success with the hot-selling Jazz – with an average transaction price over $20,000 – is no inducement. Nissan executives have previously confirmed the UK-sourced Micra sold in the 1990s did not make money, and NMC President and CEO Carlos Ghosn actively frowns upon that type of business today.

Micra is doing well across the Tasman scooping mainly retiree business, but it is a market Nissan Australia does not want to tap too hard for Micra when Pulsar has a healthy enough slice at a higher price point.

In the medium market, Nissan executives say they don’t need a sedan to rival the Mazda6 or Honda Accord because the X-Trail is doing a good enough job sopping up buyers looking for a new driving experience.

As for a vehicle to sit above Maxima, Nissan Australia sales and marketing director Paul Stead pointed out that to take on the home-grown heroes from Ford and Holden would ideally require local manufacturing, and even then there is no assurance of success.

"Would you sell 10,000 a year?" he asks. "Such a program would need volume but the market is not there." Another tempting and attractive vehicle not on the grid just yet is a four-seater version of the 350Z, sold in Japan as the Skyline Coupe and in the US as the Infiniti G35 Sport Coupe.

This model could expand the 350Z family from two-seater Sports Coupe and Roadster to take in buyers who like the shape but need the extra space. The appeal of the original 240Z was enlarged in 260Z guise when rear seats appeared.

The G35/Skyline Coupe could come to Australia in a post-facelift guise in a couple of years. The G35 is longer and has a revised roofline to allow for rear headroom, but overall maintains the 350Z’s look.

The US model also features an all-weather all-wheel drive layout that does not compromise the rear-drive bias but adds extra traction for foul weather.

The vehicle is rated as a low priority at present and would not come before a mid-life facelift for the 350Z family in about two years.

According to Mr Daphne, the edict from the top at Nissan is that there will be no orphan money-losing vehicles. Every range has to be profitable.

"Mr Ghosn’s favourite term is ‘no profit, no project’," said national marketing manager Philip Brook.

But Nissan is not writing off the chances of the four-seater making it down under.

"It could be something we’d look at, but the 350Z is designed to be a serious sportscar, so we wouldn’t want to compromise that with a four seater," Mr Brook said, adding that the Skyline Coupe/Infiniti four-seater would not come in as a low volume import.

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