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March 19, 2010

FRIDAY FEATURE: Crossover conqueror Nissan re-arms for battle

Who invented the term crossover has been debated at length by auto industry writers and observers. Certainly, as far as the UK and European markets are concerned, Nissan can rightly claim to have produced the first volume selling model – the Qashqai.

Who invented the term crossover has been debated at length by auto industry writers and observers. Certainly, as far as the UK and European markets are concerned, Nissan can rightly claim to have produced the first volume selling model – the Qashqai.

The Qashqai is called the Dualis in some markets including Japan and Australia; it is also assembled in Japan and China and, for good measure, a similar, but slightly larger, model called the Rogue, based on the same platform, is made in Japan for North America.

The Qashqai has the looks of an SUV, the compact footprint of a C-segment family sized car and the seating options of an MPV/minivan, especially since the seven-seat model was added to the line.

Now the UK-built model has received a mini makeover for the 2010 model year to keep its position as market leader  in this new segment.

Designed and engineered in Europe, the Qashqai has been a huge sales success for Nissan and ultimately the ‘halo’ sales model for what was a diminishing brand.

As Paul Willcox, Nissan’s UK managing director, told just-auto at the media launch for the revised Qashqai range this week: “Crossover models, the five seat Qashqai, the seven seat Qashqai+2 and the ‘premium’ 3.5-litre V6 petrol engined Murano sports 4×4, already account for 50% of our total UK sales.

“In September we will expand our crossover portfolio with a 2.5-litre, 190PS, 450Nm turbodiesel engine for the Murano and we will launch the new Juke B-segment SUV/sports car crossover model range which will be built in the UK once production of the Micra has moved to India.”

He added: “Nissan’s UK sales in 2009 increased by 17% to 77,924 units and they are up again in the first two months of this year by 19%. Despite the tough market conditions we have grown our market share from 3% to 4% overall but just looking at the retail sector we have a market share of 4.47%.

“Having been in 12th position in the UK’s new car sales league in 2007/2008 we are now in 8th place. If we exclude scrappage scheme sales we are the number one growth brand.

“We have recaptured the number two position of Japanese brands in the UK from Honda and we have halved the deficit to Toyota’s number one position.”

Two thirds of Nissan’s scrappage scheme sales were to new-to-the-brand customers.

Willcox said: “Our increased performance is being driven by new model introductions, five new models last year and four more this year. We will also see the LEAF electric powered, zero emissions, five seat compact hatch join our line-up in 2013 and this will be built at our Sunderland plant.”

In 2009 25,776 Qashqais were sold in the UK and Geraldine Ingham, Nissan’s crossover category manager, said the automaker expect to sell 32,500 units this year and was sitting on an order bank for 1,100 vehicles even before the revised models went on sale.

Prices for the new two- and four wheel drive models range from GBP15,395 (US$23,500) to GBP25,745 for five seat versions and GBP16,695 to GBP26,845 ($41,000) for seven seat models.

Engine choices are Renault-Nissan alliance 1.5 and 2.0-litre dCi diesel engines and 1.6 and 2.0-litre petrol units for five and seven seat versions and there are four trim and equipment levels for each. Nissan has also added a lower emission 129g/km 1.5 dCi version called Visia Pure Drive with the five seat body option and this costs GBP16,795. This model is targeted at Motabilty [disabled driver] scheme customers here in the UK.

On average the price increase between old and new models is GBP300 but Ingham said that is more than accounted for by the added specification, ESP now fitted as standard and the recent reversion of UK VAT sales tax from 15% to 17.5%.

Ingham added that the Qashqaai+2 seven seater accounts for around 5,600 of UK sales each year and only 5% of customers opt for four wheel drive models. Retail customers account for 45% of the volume. The most popular engine is the 1.5-litre dCi diesel which accounts for 50%.. The single most popular model in the UK is the five-door, 1.5 dCi N-tec two wheel drive, five seater which costs GBP19,895.

Ingham said the British built Juke B-segment ‘crossover’ arriving this autumn will have the option of 1.6 petrol, 1.5 dCi diesel and 1.6 direct injection turbocharged petrol engine and a provisional price range of GBP£13,000 to GBP19,500. This new B-segment compact crossover range should account for 20,000 UK sales in a full year.

The larger Murano ‘crossover’ 4×4, due to its large 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine, accounts for only 250 UK sales a year but the introduction of the 2.5-litre, 190PS I4 diesel engine later this year should give volume a boost.

But, by how many – and how much this highly specified vehicle will cost; Ingham was not willing to say.

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