As Nissan embarks on a drive to become a global player in the commercial vehicle arena, JARLATH SWEENEY of Irish magazine, Fleet Transport, sends the brand a hearty high five
The number five seems to be prominent in Nissan thinking and strategy these days, as the Japanese brand is working on a five-point plan to become a global player with a worldwide reach in its passenger car and commercial vehicle divisions.
On the product side, in its light commercial vehicle (LCV) business, the offering of a five-year warranty and the development of the unique five-link rear suspension on the award-winning Navara pickup is already paying dividends.
According to Paolo D’ettore, head of marketing at Nissan LCV in Europe, the Nissan Vision is the platform for the five-point plan, with zero road fatalities backed up by zero emissions from its vehicles.
“Intelligent mobility will initially put these building blocks in place, while Intelligent Drive – which is available in the Navara already – installs confidence with its all-round camera monitoring and emergency braking system,” he explains.
Intelligent Power and Intelligent Integration are the other two elements involved, with the Nissan Leaf and e-NV200 electric car and van/people carrier making their mark (silently) in the affordable, viable alternative energy marketplace – while the Navara AvantGuard concept pickup creates new excitement and shows what can be done with existing vehicles from a redesign prospective.
In essence, Nissan’s philosophy is to meet customers’ needs in each region with its diverse range of commercial vehicles (D’ettore is keen to emphasise that “every Nissan sold in Europe is made in Europe”, for example). That is the case now and will be in the future.
The company’s sales growth strategy is to have available a broad, recently revamped and completed commercial vehicle line-up, together with investment at dealership level in order to have the best infrastructure in place in terms of experienced salespeople and customer aftermarket care.
A strong commitment on the marketing side is also planned, which will be linked to Nissan’s successful sponsorship of the UEFA Champions League. An engaging TV advertising campaign has featured football stars in action on board Nissan’s commercial vehicles, with the new NV300 as the latest signing.
“LCV advertising does not have to be boring,” claims D’ettore.
He confidently adds that Nissan LCV is the fastest-growing brand in Europe, with a 40 percent year-on-year increase in sales, resulting from the successful introduction of the Navara and the five-year/160 000 km warranty across the range.
Now that the new NV300 has arrived in most markets across the European Union (EU), consolidation on this progression is possible.
By re-entering this medium-sized van segment, Nissan Europe is coming around from the back of the field to make its mark. It has effectively been out of the race for two years or more as the Primastar, based on the Renault Trafic, has not been replaced with a newer model until now.
Since then, Renault has regained a foothold in this segment, as has Opel with the same model, badged as the Vivaro. Now Fiat Professional is also offering a vehicle based on the Renault Trafic, which it calls the Talento. Serious competition indeed, and that’s just between these four brands!
Nissan is well aware of the challenge that lies ahead, but as the European medium-van market is the most vibrant presently, commanding 27 percent of the LCV market, it is important to be in the mix.
Its main target is small to medium enterprises (SMEs). By offering a wide line-up of models, engine choices and comfort levels, together with low running costs, backed up by the extended warranty, the NV300 will quickly restore lost volumes at dealership level and with fleet sales.
In terms of speed, well, if James Bond is looking for a quick getaway car to escape villains across the sand-dunes, the Navara is the vehicle that comes highly recommended.
The Navara excelled in the tough terrain during dawn to dusk drives in the Sahara Desert in southern Morocco and won the International Pick-up Award (IPUA). Every element of the well-designed drivetrain was thoroughly tested over rocky surfaces, dry river crossings and soft sand dunes.
Most of the time we were in four-wheel-drive low-range gearing, with some time also spent in two-wheel-drive low-range gearing when required. Over the dunes, a calculated approach and speed was necessary, as was the combination of the available 141 kW (190 hp) and 450 Nm from the 2,3-litre engine.
It worked admirably with the newly developed seven-speed automatic, not forgetting the strength and flexibility of the innovative five-link rear suspension.
It was a stern test, just like the IPUA trials in the Norwegian forests, in which the Navara showed its true colours, before receiving the prestigious accolade.
Whether ploughing through soft or hard sands, the Navara, with its Continental Cross tyres, coped amazingly well with what was presented by the terrain. Even when slip-sliding when approaching the peak of the dunes, the all-wheel-drive system somehow managed to find some traction.
Christian Meola, head of product planning at Nissan Europe, claims that the Navara, with its five-link suspension, performs better at high speed, and he was proved right! Being 80-percent stiffer than conventional leaf spring systems, it is more durable.
Dakar Rally veteran, Roman Villa – who has 11 cross-country raids under his helmet as driver and navigator – laid out a route to challenge and excite the invited press, which was in keeping with the theme from Nissan for the event – “Push the Limits”.
As a result of its impressive performance, the new Navara is ready to compete in the Dakar Rally, even in its current, non-race-prepared state! In fact, we took part in some of the special stage routes of the world famous cross-country marathon (when it was held in the African continent before moving to South America).
Although a full Nissan works team competed in the Dakar from 2003 to 2005, there are no immediate plans to return to the event in the near future.
The James Bond name drop was intentional as the famous Jbel Medouar gateway was used in a sequence in the Spectre blockbuster. It’s majorly thick-walled entrance, to what once was a slave prison, also featured in The Mummy.
It was here that the Navara’s Around View Monitor (AVM) camera system came in handy. It was necessary when ascending and descending the narrow, hilly and rocky pathway up to the peak of the canyon, which revealed breathtaking wide open landscape.
As the competition in the pickup segment increases over the next year or so, with Renault (Alaskan) and Mercedes-Benz (X-Class) entering the scene, with what is effectively the same model under different badging, Nissan must be cock-a-hoop that its advanced technology developed with the Navara, has been acknowledged in this way.
According to Nissan South Africa, the new Nissan Navara will launch locally during the first quarter of 2017 and will be offered with a six-year/150 000 km warranty. While the company is in constant discussions with its parent company regarding the introduction of new product, the e-NV200 and the NV300 are not planned for local introduction in 2017 – ed.