Nissan MarchRenault and Nissan have delivered their first baby three years after getting together in a whirlwind romance, according to a Reuters report from Tokyo.

The new March subcompact hatchback, to be known as the Micra in Europe, is the first vehicle to be built on a platform shared by the two car makers, Reuters said.

The pair#;s next new shared platform is expected to debut under the replacement for Renault#;s small-medium Megane range which is now six years old.

“Today I can say that Nissan is ready for growth,” Nissan chief executive Carlos Ghosn told Reuters while launching the new March in Tokyo today.

Ghosn added that Nissan would post record net and recurring profits for the year to March 31 in addition to record operating income, but declined to comment on specific numbers, Reuters said.

Last year, Reuters added, Nissan forecast a net profit of 330 billion yen ($US2.47 billion), 0.3 percent off the previous year, but said it would have revised it higher but for potential market uncertainty after September 11 — uncertainty that has not materialised.

Success for the high-volume March/Micra will be critical for Nissan which has made a stunning recovery under Ghosn#;s leadership.

But Reuters said, the task would not be easy. The original 1982 March was a pioneer in the subcompact class but 10 years have passed since its last full redesign and rivals now dominate the segment — Toyota ‘s Vitz/Yaris and Honda’s Fit/Jazz.

Reuters added that both are huge hits in Japan, with the Vitz averaging 19,000 units a month since its release two years ago and the Fit averaging 16,000 a month since its launch in June last year.

“We’ve set a Japan monthly sales target of 8,000 units for the life of the vehicle — a four- to five-year span — but in the first year, it should sell over 10,000 per month,” Nissan#;s March programme director Kouji Hori told Reuters.

In Europe, where the Micra – built in Britain – will be launched in early 2003, Nissan is aiming for 160,000 to 170,000 sales a year, Reuters said.

The news agency said that Nissan had invested 30 billion to 35 billion yen in Japan for the new car and costs are around 15 percent lower compared with the old version.

Hori told Reuters that the costs of developing a shared platform were at least 20 percent lower compared with Nissan developing a new one by itself.

“It’s thanks to those cost cuts that we’ve had a lot more freedom in design,” Satoru Tai, the March’s chief designer, told Reuters.

Like most new models, the March had been previewed in ‘concept#; form at various motor shows.

According to Reuters, the production car has a curved roof reminiscent of Volkswagen‘s New Beetle and large oval headlights.

Tai told Reuters that his hardest call was deciding how bold the vehicle’s lines should be and he opted for bolder rather than not, a move that also reflects European tastes.

But Reuters noted that Nissan’s need to get the March on sale by 2002 meant the platform — the front half designed by Renault and the back half by Nissan — does not include a common engine.

Therefore Renault’s Clio, to be built on the same platform, will have a Renault engine, Reuters added.

The news agency said that decision avoided a lot of internal quibbling about which car maker makes the better engine, but did not maximise potential cost benefits.