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Nissan unveils Altima V8 supercar
Altima V8 Supercar reveal heralds huge marketing push for Nissan Australia
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30 Oct 2012
NISSAN has launched a huge Australian “passenger car renaissance” marketing push with the unveiling in Melbourne today of its new Altima V8 Supercar racer with Kelly Racing.
Sporty variants of the all-new mid-size sedan or a collection of aftermarket upgrades inspired by its Australian racing efforts have also been mooted, but are not expected to materialise in the near future.
Four Altima racers are set to debut at the Clipsal 500 in Adelaide on March 2, putting Nissan – and the new Altima that will launch Down Under late next year – in front of a “large and important” audience.
Nissan Australia managing director and CEO Bill Peffer said entering the Altima into V8 Supercars “is an excellent opportunity to showcase Nissan both as a brand and as a maker of exciting and innovative cars, trucks and SUVs”.
It will be the first time Nissan has competed in Australian touring car racing since 1993, when rule changes outlawed its dominant all-wheel-drive ‘Godzilla’ Skyline GT-Rs.
In an interview with GoAuto at the unveiling, Mr Peffer pointed out the importance of being the first brand to come back into the “innovative and exciting marketing platform” of V8 Supercars, ending a two-decade Ford/Holden duopoly.
“During that 20-year interim, the marketplace has changed and segments ebb and flow, consumer tastes move on,” he said.
“Nissan is getting ready to embark on a pretty aggressive passenger car renaissance led by Pulsar in February, and ultimately the capstone will be this car, the Altima.
“We want to see the name of Altima and get the Australian public familiar with it as a prelude to the launch.”
Mr Peffer said the Altima – expected to be available with efficient 2.5-litre four-cylinder and 3.5-litre V6 petrol engines in Australia – will compete with the Falcon and Commodore in addition to traditional mid-size rivals including the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord.
He would not comment on previous reports that Nissan aimed to sell 500-600 Altimas per month in Australia – similar to the performance of the outgoing Mazda6 that currently holds a 10 per cent market share, but way off the segment-leading Toyota Camry that has averaged 1900 units a month this year.
Mr Peffer said the medium and large segments as “transforming”, with customers moving to more efficient smaller cars or lifestyle-oriented SUVs, and saw the medium sedan market as “very robust” and one that Nissan “wants our fair share of”.
He declined to reveal how much the V8 Supercar program would cost or whether the investment was larger than Nissan’s previous involvement in Australian motorsport, but agreed it was the company’s biggest marketing push for some time.
“It’s big,” he said, pointing out that competitors using Ford and Holden cars are able to carry over existing components.
“We are bringing in not only a new entry with the Car of the Future chassis it’s got new aerodynamics, it’s got a new transaxle, a new engine, a new body, everything is new – if you size that up, the investment is significant.”
Team co-owner and race driver Todd Kelly revealed that about 23,000 man-hours had gone into developing and building the Altima V8 Supercar over the past six months.
“To put that into perspective, the car that you see right here is worth in excess of $1.5 million,” said Mr Kelly.
Mr Peffer said Nissan had entered into a multi-year deal with Kelly Racing and V8 Supercars, describing it as “a significant investment for us”.
Asked whether the V8 Supercars-led marketing push was designed to lead customers to the Altima or the wider Nissan range, Mr Peffer said the approach was two-pronged.
He explained that, in addition to getting the Altima into the Australian public conscience, the racing exercise would boost Nissan’s reputation as a technologically innovative brand.
“What better way (than) to enter a competitive series like V8 Supercars, Australia’s premier motorsport, and prove we are technologically innovative?” said Mr Peffer.
However, he would not say if that innovation would extend to a hybrid version of the Altima for Australia, saying only that some of the 12 new products Nissan will launch here in the next 30 months will feature hybrid technology.
He said the V8 Supercars involvement could inspire a production special vehicles model.
“It is something we are looking at … we will see how it seeds in the first year or two and make some decisions from there,” said Mr Peffer.
Kelly Racing chairman John Crennan – the former long-time boss of Holden Special Vehicles – told GoAuto that developing a sports Altima falls into the “it would be nice category”, but saw the diminishing volumes of HSV and FPV products as a risk.
“If we are discussing it with Nissan at some stage, I think we have to look pretty hard at the viability of this sort of business these days,” said Mr Crennan.
However, he certainly sees an opportunity in the aftermarket performance parts and accessories business.
“If I was putting all my money on the line, I would think that (aftermarket is more viable),” he said.
“Given the shrinking demand in that (performance sedan) area and looking around and seeing the sports derivatives of all the manufacturers’ cars, there is high risk involved.
“(Aftermarket) is lower risk (for businesses) and more cost-efficient for the fans who want to express themselves with that little bit of ‘look at me’ attitude on their car.”
Compared with new Car of the Future racers from Ford and Holden, Mr Kelly said the smaller Altima’s body panels were an easier fit with the new regulation chassis, resulting in a race car that more closely resembles the showroom model.
He said a flaring of the rear guards and slight lengthening of the front guards were the only changes necessary.
The 5.6-litre VK56DE V8 race engine, derived from the engine in the all-new Patrol that launches here in February, was put to championship-winning use for Nissan’s global GT1 race campaign in 2011 and in the company’s LMP2 prototypes for this year’s Le Mans 24-hour race.
Mr Kelly said the unit’s use in GT1 racing would help determine the life expectancy of various engine components.
“What we have been able to get from Nismo in Japan as far as advice, their experience and their expertise on the engine has been huge,” he said.
“To take that project on and go through our own learning process on how components last and when certain things fail in the engine, that would take us three or four years to go through.
“We have picked up where they finished with that VK56 engine, so all of the little things that they have tuned out of that engine have been a huge help.”
Mr Peffer would not reveal where the production Altima will be sourced for Australia, but said “we have a couple of options available to us”.
Nissan’s US factories in Tennessee and Mississippi produce the Altima for 45 markets, but other potential sources include Japan and Thailand, the latter being a production base for the current Maxima sedan.
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