Nissan NZ mulls Pulsar, Micra future

Although crossovers are now its dominant sellers, Nissan NZ is loath to lose the Micra and Pulsar hatchbacks.

TWO hatchbacks that together accounted for almost one-eighth of Nissan New Zealand’s total volume in 2015 should remain on sale here for at least the remainder of the year – but their future availability beyond that point is less certain at the moment.

That’s the word from the brand’s boss, John Manley, in reaction to a bombshell announcement out of Nissan Australia.

Our neighbour is to drop the Micra hatch and also the five-door edition of the Pulsar, cars that together achieved almost 1000 of Nissan NZ’s total count of 7869 registrations for 2015.

The decision has potential to cause disruption on this side of the Tasman because our countries take these cars in common specification.

Nissan NZ has acknowledged there is potential for Nissan Japan to simply curtail ongoing production of models for NZ sale simply because the economies of scale might no longer make sense.

“We utilise Australian product whenever practicable,” he said. The arrangement has plenty of pluses in costing and model availability and specification.

On the other hand: “It may well be that if Australia no longer takes a certain model then access is also denied to us, because of the sheer scale of the operation.”

However, with Australia committing to keeping the cars until the end of 2016, the supply chain is continuing unimpeded, which means the Mt Wellington operation has a significant period of time in which it can sort out its options.

“We are now looking to examine our options … at this point they (Australia) are operating ahead of us. We do not see any change for us this year.”

What happens beyond that, however, is much less clear. However, the ties that bind to Australia can be unravelled, he continued, because this market is not constrained to meeting any specific design rules.

“Because we are not restricted by ADR (Australian Design Rules) as they are we have the potential to take product that is not of interest to Australia or is not available for them to take. We have a degree of discretion there.”

The $19,750 Micra, which now sources from India, accounted for 250 registrations here last year, whereas the Thailand-supplied Pulsar took 686 sales, the majority to the hatch with the ST model shining brightest by far with two thirds the volume.

New Zealand’s Pulsar representation is already less diverse than Australia’s – having reduced from five to three editions, an ST and SSS hatch, plus a ST sedan. The ST derviatives have a recommended retail of $29,990 – though at present both are subject to a $22,990 promotional price deal – while the SSS is a $39,990 vehicle.

In overall terms, the vehicles that Nissan Australia has chosen to focus on from now on – the Navara one-tonne utility and the Qashqai and X-Trail sports utilities – also grab the majority of sales in New Zealand.

Manley agrees that the consumer swing toward crossovers and SUVs is so strong, now, that losing the hatchbacks is not exactly a mortal blow. Nonetheless, the sales they contribute are strong enough to warrant putting up a fight for their continuation.

“There’s no doubt now that our key product is now Navara, X-Trail and Qashqai. I guess it is the consumer preference, they are what the market wants.”

So it’s not a mortal blow? “Oh, goodness, no. But we never give up anything without careful consideration.”

He said it might be feasible for the Pulsar nameplate to continue simply by selling the sedan. “That is always a possibility. It’s a lesser seller but it is possible. But these are things that we have yet to give serious consideration to. We will look at options as we go forward.”

Nissan Australia believes that dropping the Pulsar hatch will strengthen its business, boss Richard Emery citing that the sedan was already a more robust model in regard to profitability. It also seems Kiwi reservations about small three box cars are not shared globally; Nissan says the sedan is now the “mainstay” of Nissan’s small-car line-up, with the hatch not offered in many countries.

The reasons for dropping Micra, meantime, come down to it having an ageing platform, its lack of adequate specification compared with newer rivals in the segment as well as an inability to meet Euro 5 emissions regulations.

The Micra competes against the Mitsubishi Mirage, Holden Spark, Fiat 500 and the Suzuki Celerio.

Nissan Australia has also culled from its lineup the Y61-series Patrol that it continued selling alongside the newer Y62 model since it was launched in early 2013. The Australians keep the 20-year-old model because it offered buyers a diesel option, given that the new model is petrol only. However, Nissan NZ did not follow suit.