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Plans for Nissan’s VW Golf rival take shape

Invitation speculation: Reports abound that Nissan’s mysterious new VW Golf rival will take design cues from last year’s Invitation concept.

New Nissan passenger car to be built at Barcelona likely to be upmarket small hatch

6 Feb 2013

NISSAN appears to be preparing to build a Volkswagen Golf rival at its Spanish factory that also produces the Navara one-tonne ute and its Pathfinder SUV derivative near Barcelona.

GoAuto understands the new hatchback, set to enter production in July 2014, will not be related to the Pulsar small sedan range that launched in Australia last week, with a hatch to follow soon.

This could lead to a similar arrangement as Kia’s upmarket Cee’d hatch for Europe and South Korean-made Cerato for Australia and elsewhere.

Nissan’s announcement that the new passenger car will add an extra 80,000 units of annual production to its Barcelona facility suggests comparatively low volumes for Europe’s small car segment, especially considering that about 40,000 Mazda3s are sold a year in the comparatively tiny Australian market alone.

Total capacity at Barcelona will eventually increase to more than 200,000 units as a result of the €130 million ($A1.7 million) investment, which will also will increase Navara production by 24,000 units and add assembly of electric vehicle transmissions for the Leaf car and eNV200 van.

12 center imageLeft: Nissan's Barcelona plant.

Nissan executive vice-president Andy Palmer announced last April that a new European small hatch would be built at Nissan’s British factory in Sunderland.

“This marks Nissan’s return to the main part of the C-segment,” he said.

“We’ve been absent from the true C-segment – say, the Golf competitor – for an awfully long time … and we lose some customers as a result.”

Since then Nissan’s luxury arm Infiniti confirmed it will instead build its first compact model – expected to be called Q30 – at Sunderland from 2015, based on the Mercedes-Benz MFA modular platform that underpins the A-Class, B-Class and CLA.

Using a premium Mercedes platform is unlikely for the new Nissan hatch, especially as it will enter production before the Infiniti, so its underpinnings remain a mystery.

But there is potential for a new platform shared with Nissan’s alliance partner Renault and the next-generation Megane, or even the British-built Dualis compact SUV.

The new hatch will reportedly take design cues from the Invitation concept from last year’s Geneva motor show, which previewed the Honda Jazz-rivalling Note mini people-mover, and the popular Dualis, which was the first Nissan to be styled by its European design centre in London.

Nissan sold a Sunderland-built version of the N16 Pulsar called the Almera in Europe between 2000 and 2006, but British publication Auto Express quotes Mr Palmer as denying that the new car will be called that but would wear a “familiar” nameplate.

Before switching to Almera, Nissan’s European Pulsar equivalent was called Sunny, a name still used in some markets for the light-segment sedan launched in Australia last year as Almera.

Nissan’s investment in its Spanish factory will create 1000 direct jobs and 3000 indirectly while diversifying production to make it more able to weather changing economic conditions and Nissan says the plan will result in Barcelona becoming one of its most competitive and versatile operations.

The Barcelona plant won the bid after “reaching a new competitive proposal with the local works council”, taking advantage of recent labour market reform in Spain that has made doing business there more attractive to international businesses.

It is good news for the Spanish economy, which has been one of the hardest hit by the European sovereign debt crisis, and the European car industry, in which sales were at their lowest ebb for 17 years in 2012.

Nissan Motor Iberica managing director Frank Torres described the Barcelona plan as “not only a great achievement for Nissan, but for the entire industry in this country”.

Volkswagen Group has also recently invested in Spain, electing to build the Audi Q3 compact luxury SUV at the Martorell plant that also builds Seat vehicles.

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