There will be three major motor shows in November but Nissan will instead reveal the Qashqai at its own event

There will be three major motor shows in November but Nissan will instead reveal the Qashqai at its own event

Nissan will unveil project W32-S, the new Qashqai, on 7 November. Glenn Brooks lifts the tarpaulin and examines one of the European market's most important future models.

Back in June 2011, with the UK still in the grip of an economic downturn, Nissan announced that Sunderland in the northeast of England would be the main global production plant for the next Qashqai. The vehicle would also be designed and engineered in the UK, the firm added. The build location and British engineering aspects of that statement weren’t too surprising, but the potential launch date was. Here was the top selling Japanese OEM in Europe admitting that it would be consequently extending the lifecycle of its best seller to a very un-Japanese seven long years.

Happily for Nissan Europe, the calculated gamble of the savings to be had by keeping the first generation model in production for such a long time has paid off. The P32-L series model, as well as the N32-L extended wheelbase seven-seat Qashqai+2 are if anything, selling at record volumes as their lifecycles draw to a close. We first saw the production version of the standard wheelbase model at the 2006 Paris motor show. Production started three months later just before Christmas on Line 1 at Sunderland, with sales in Europe commencing in February 2007.

Back then, initial annual build of 130,000 units was planned, of which 24,000 were earmarked for Japan, where the model has always been known as the Dualis. It didn’t take long for Nissan to recognise that this vehicle had the makings of a global best seller. In August 2007, additional build at the Kyushu plant in Japan was announced. Three months later came an announcement at the Guangzhou motor show that the model would be built in China.

Build started at Dongfeng Nissan’s Huadu plant in China’s Guangdong province in January 2008, but when this JV’s then-new plant in Henan came on stream in September 2010, all Chinese production of the X-Trail (and Qashqai) shifted there. Globally, Nissan was still battling to cope with demand for this vehicle and it quickly saw that in Europe at least, during what was supposed to be a steep downturn, customers were willing to pay high prices for their vehicles. Cleverly, it had added the long wheelbase Qashqai+2 to the line at Sunderland in September 2008 and the money just rolled in. Eighteen months later came a facelift for both cars at January 2010’s Brussels motor show, then in June of that year, production of the 2.0-litre 'MR' petrol engine was added at Sunderland.

All in all, not a bad performance for a vehicle that had almost had to invent its own niche. We mustn’t forget that the Qashqai was the result of Nissan Europe realising that to succeed as a highly profitable mass brand, it would be best off exiting the cut throat pricing of the C hatchback segment and looking elsewhere for a decent return on investment.

Last year, Sunderland built over 510,000 vehicles, the majority of which were of course the Qashqai, though the Juke and now previous generation Note were also brisk sellers across Europe. I have noted this statistic before but it’s worth repeating: this one facility made more cars in 2012 than the combined output of Fiat’s Italian plants. This year, with Sunderland going flat out while factories such as Mirafiori have been building the Alfa MiTo for just three days in every calendar month, the gap will be greater still.

The investments in Sunderland continue, spurred on by Qashqai sales, with roughly GBP1bn now earmarked for the site in recent times, ending with the start of Infiniti Q30 production in 2015. There have been, and continue to be, multiple platform models made there, with the Qashqai for example, using Renault-Nissan’s P3 architecture. The new vehicle sits on CMF, which the Alliance insists should be defined as an engineering architecture. In other words, what it terms to be compatible ‘Big Modules’: engine bay, cockpit, front underbody, rear underbody and electrical/electronic systems.

Build of the first generation vehicle is beginning to wind down at Sunderland, while other global plants will be converted to building W32-S during 2014. Will Kyushu be one of them? Nissan isn’t saying, but with so much of the air having leaked out of the overinflated super yen during 2013, the Japanese plant might well be making this model for the local market.

China will play a bigger part in the success of the new generation model. In June 2012, Nissan announced plans for a new plant in the north eastern city of Dalian. This facility, which will produce Nissan-branded vehicles for the Dongfeng Nissan joint venture, might build the successor for the local market’s Dualis. Dalian’s capacity upon opening in 2014 will be 150,000 units per annum. That can relatively easily double, the partners have stated.

Even though the Russian market hasn’t been having the best of years in 2013, the new model will also be added at Nissan’s own St Petersburg plant in 2014 too. Presently, Sunderland is the source of build for what is one of Nissan Europe’s largest markets for the Qashqai after Britain.

We’ll see images of the new car at exactly 2pm GMT next Thursday, according to a media statement by Nissan GB. It isn’t just the success of the current one here, and all that investment in manufacturing - the second generation car was styled at Nissan's European Design Centre in west London, while engineers from the Nissan Technical Centre Europe in Cranfield, Bedfordshire, took the lead in its engineering. 

Series production in England is due to commence in December and the car will be launched across Europe during the first quarter, to be reportedly followed by a hybrid derivative in 2015. There won’t be a +2 this time around, as even though it was able to command relatively high prices, the Generation Two model should be a bit bigger and so one wheelbase should suffice. That will have made the engineering spend less, not to mention ease the whole manufacturing process. Configurators will of course direct anyone who really wants a seven-seater Nissan towards the new X-Trail.

An insider told me some years back that HQ in Japan had insisted that the Qashqai name be used, even though Nissan Motor Europe was nervous about it. Potential buyers quickly learned how to pronounce it, and then Nissan Japan went and invented ‘Dualis’ as a name for Japan, which was then picked up by the Australian importer, and Nissan China too. An executive with Nissan Australia recently let slip that the new car will be known as the Qashqai down under, so we will soon learn if that will be enforced globally.

As for engines, that’s still a secret but sources claim there be some changes. The most important of which will be the use of the Alliance’s a 113bhp DiG-T 1.2-litre petrol turbo, plus 108bhp 1.5 dCi and 128bhp 1.6 dCi turbo diesels. That’s quite a risk to take if the 113bhp unit is the sole petrol engine at launch, but it does seem doubtful, especially when there was a relatively recent investment in the Northeast for larger capacity petrol units.

Vehicle architecture is another interesting thing. Renault and Nissan stated earlier this year that CMF for what it termed the compact and large car segments would include 1.6 million vehicles per year and 14 models (11 Renault group + 3 Nissan). The Qashqai will be the second - the Rogue is about to go on sale in North America (the Qashqai has never been sold there) and its X-Trail twin hits the Japanese market in December, with the replacements for the Espace, Scénic and Laguna due to enter production at the Georges Besse plant in Douai (France) from late 2014 onwards.

It really looks as though 2014 is going to be a great one for Nissan Europe. The decision to build the Leaf in England was a major leap of faith in the popularity of electric cars across Europe. That decision will take some years to be proved correct, if it ever is, but sales are at least improving, albeit from a low level. Sunderland’s other models, the new Note and Juke, as well as the soon to be replaced Qashqai prove that the right products for the times, as long as they are also well marketed and priced, will always prove popular.

The only problem Nissan may have with its soon to be revealed next C segment crossover is likely to be production capacity at some plants. This might even apply at Sunderland, depending on how soon and how quickly the main non-UK EU markets start to expand into the current or next growth phase of the regional economic cycle. That's a good problem to have.