THE WEEK THAT WAS: 'Dustbin' on the way back?

By Graeme Roberts | 2 March 2012

Datsun brand may be on the way back for emerging market models

Datsun brand may be on the way back for emerging market models

Antipodeans have a habit of changing names to something more colloquial or shortening to suit. In Australia, your mate Peter Bond becomes Bondy, barbecue is barbie, trousers are daks (I have no idea why) and brand names get murdered.

Same, with regional differences, across the Tasman in my native New Zealand. Like many a spotty youth in the mid-70s, I started my working life in the motor trade where, to us dyed-in-the-wool Ford, Holden or Chrysler fans, this new Japanese stuff which, although imported in small numbers from the early 1960s, only really gained traction in the '70s, was viewed with suspicion. So naturally, puerile humourists came up with new names, most of which I can't repeat on a family website, but I do recall we always called Datsuns 'Dustbins'. They rusted as you watched, NZ being surrounded by salt-laden air most of the time, but the engines and mechanicals were bullet-proof: 100,000 miles before you had to 'take the head off' or 'do the rings and bearings' in those days was pretty good. And the Japanese evolutions of BMC's overhead valve A- and B-series engines were far better put together and (usually) didn't leak oil all over your driveway.

So I'm intrigued that, 30-odd years after a very expensive global campaign to banish Datsun in favour of Nissan, to hear the old brand might be coming back, albeit on a line of cheapies for emerging markets. This is a sensible strategy already well under way in China at the likes of VW and GM's partner SAIC which is in the process of launching the Tantus and Baojun brands respectively. Audi, VW, Buick, Cadillac et al are doing nicely in the likes of Beijing and Shanghai, now it's time to target lower incomes in the giant inland 'Tier 3 and 4' cities with new brands and models priced accordingly. Others, as we note today, blur the line - Renault sells Dacia models as Dacia or Renault, according to market, the latter in more established markets like Brazil and, soon here in the UK. A Toyota is a Toyota, whether it's the entry level Etios or a topline Camry and you'll find both in a Chinese showroom. There's a risk the cheap 'un will devalue the brand, making the more expensive one harder to sell. Nissan's thoughts seem sensible: even money we will see Datsun back in a couple of years?

Earlier in the week, GM and PSA confirmed last week's speculation they would form an alliance and, slowly, details are emerging and unions are getting twitchy. I'm not suprised. What would you think if you were Opel's works council chief, or a union leader at Vauxhall, and saw this in the media? PSA assembling GM cars in France might make economic sense but the political ramifications in Germany, to which Opel works leaders want Chevrolet production for Europe shifted from Korea, would be immense. Especially if Bochum's been closed in the meantime...

Certainly the British pollies, sorry, politicians, have been weighing in urgently to try and keep Vauxhall's Ellesmere Port Astra factory open; you may recall the axing of car production at the historic Luton plant a decade ago. With the coalition struggling to deal with record high unemployment, the last thing needed right now is some suit in Detroit deciding to axe a plant employing 2,000 that mostly builds for export.

Business editor Simon Warburton has been keeping an eye on Saab again this week - it looks like the Turkish bid is down for the count with GM blamed over that technology licensing issue. Not so, retorted GM, in a robust defence. Quite a week, then.

Enjoy the weekend.

Graeme Roberts, Deputy Editor, just-auto.com