After over three decades, Nissan is all set to bring back the Datsun brand to markets like India, Russia, Indonesia and South Africa.
The new Datsun nameplate will be premiered at the Kingdom of Dreams in New Delhi on July 15. Carlos Ghosn, the global CEO of Renault-Nissan, is expected to unveil the first Datsun model, which will be a five-door hatchback in the sub-Rs. 4 lakh category.
The Datsun brand is targeted at the budget end of the market where there are huge volumes. Nissan expects to sell around 1,50,000 to 2,00,000 Datsun cars in India every year, using a promotional strategy that would involve a blend of affordability and aspiration.
Nissan feels that the Datsun brand – targeted at the emerging middle class in the Indian, Russian and Indonesian markets – will play a key role in the ‘Nissan Power 88’, the automaker’s plans to raise both profit margins and worldwide market share to eight percent by 2016.
In India, Datsun will go up against the likes of Maruti and Hyundai. In fact, unlike Indonesia, where the first Datsun model is expected to be cheaper than the cheapest car in the market by as much as 30 percent, in India, Datsun will be fighting a fierce price war.
"India is a tough market and it’s not going to be a picnic for us but we believe Datsun can crack it with modernity and a superior product," says Vincent Cobee, corporate vice president, Datsun Business Unit, Nissan. "We can’t win in the Indian market if we have a me-too product," he adds.
Styling is expected to be a key differentiator for Datsun cars and the family will sport a compact but prominent hexagonal grille to distinguish it from other brands.
The rest of the car too is expected to come with some stand-out design elements without compromising on practicality. Datsun’s first model for India will be a five-door hatchback (internal code: K2), which, judging by a masked prototype we saw, will be nearly as big as the current Micra. Development of the K2 started out as a ‘top hat’ on a two-generation-old Micra platform (K11) but according to company sources, the K11 was shelved as the platform proved too small to accommodate the cabin requirements for today’s 50th percentile person. Nissan has used various other bits from its parts bin to underpin the K2 and this includes the same 1.2-litre, three-cylinder petrol engine (XH5) from the Micra. In the Micra, this motor develops 75bhp but this figure could be slightly less in the K2, which will be tuned for better efficiency. Also, the XH5 in the K2 is likely to come with lower specs to meet stringent cost targets. However, since the K2 is expected to be around 100kg lighter than the Micra, it will have better acceleration. In fact, presentations made by the Datsun team indicated that the K2 will have best-in-class performance by far, along with fuel efficiency that matches the best in class. According to company sources, however, the K2’s lightened chassis doesn’t have the reinforcements to match the Micra’s torsional stiffness or the same global standards of crash worthiness – a key reason why it won’t sell in Japan or Western Europe.
The K2 uses a straightforward MacPherson strut front suspension and torsion beam axle at the rear. However, a lot of effort has gone into fine-tuning the suspension to tackle Indian roads. Ground clearance too is pretty generous and the relatively high profile 145/70 R13 tyres should cushion shocks as well. The Micra will first come with 13-inch rims but a 14-inch option could come later.
There will be no diesel option for the K2 as the Renault-Nissan’s smallest diesel, the 1.5-litre K9K seen in the Micra and other models, is too large to be packaged in the K2. "The tapering nose is a key part of the car’s styling but unfortunately, this does not leave us with any space to package the K9K," said a company source. Also, the K9K would work out too expensive in any case. However, the belief within the company is that there is no need for a diesel in this petrol-dominated segment.
Datsun is likely to share the same dealer network as Nissan but will have its own distinct showroom area built to Datsun brand guidelines. However, in smaller towns where there is no Nissan outlet, standalone Datsun dealerships could be set up.
The first Datsun hatchback is expected to hit Indian roads in mid-2014 with a base price of around Rs. 3.2 lakh (ex-showroom). Nissan is targeting the highly successful Hyundai i10 with what it feels is a far superior value-for-money proposition.