Musings on the Motoring World

Nissan’s Indecision on the Z Underlines a Huge Problem

As surely as the sun rises in the east Nissan continues to be undecided on the fate of their Z sports car. This year will be the 370Z’s 9th birthday, which would make it the second longest running Z car, after the wedge-tastic Z32 300ZX that soldiered on till the turn of the century in Japan. That’s geriatric by sports car standards or about middle age for a British sports car.

Yokohama’s cloud of uncertainty over the Z’s future hasn’t stopped the rumour mill from cultivating a number of interesting possibilities for the next in line in Nissan’s Z sports car lineage. There were rumours that it would be a hybrid, then some raised the idea that it will be an SUV, others said that it would be killed off altogether, and now the latest forecast on that cloud is that nobody has a real clue what it will be.

While Nissan’s chief planning officer readily admits that the sports car market is shrinking worldwide, he says that they are working on a new Z car, though saying a lot of absolutely nothing on what form or concept it will adopt.

Indeed, building a sports car today would make less of a direct return on investment than setting a pile of money on fire just for the spectacle, but the excuse that it would be an exercise that Nissan can ill afford is absurd. After all, isn’t Nissan now part of an alliance that has sold the most cars last year?

Sure it had to take a fuel consumption scandal to precipitate the downfall of one of its kei-car manufacturing partners for the group to acquire them and incorporate their sales numbers to become the third largest in terms of cars sold, but small details aside, they are one of the giants of the automotive world right now.

Someone wake Nissan up from their 2001 stupor. Shouldn’t it be time to quit being uptight and let its hair down for a bit?

As it stands now the Z car is at the precipice of the same fate of Nissan’s amazing IDx concept, which received so much global fanfare that it might as well have been the chariot of the Second Coming of Christ. Nissan was so encouraged by the response that its production was supposedly greenlit mere months after the concept’s debut, only for later reports to say that its rear-wheel drive concept would be watered down, and further rumours that it might have been killed off entirely, or not. There is a theme going on here.

Nissan seems to be dogged by indecision over what it should do. And sports cars isn’t their only problem. The new Nissan Leaf, for instance, delivered more range and features behind a face that is so forgettable you might not remember where you parked it even if was hooked up to your own house. That’s an odd decision considering Nissan’s whole catalogue of interesting electric concepts and the alternative drivetrain car market being populated by distinctive shapes like the BMW i3, Honda Clarity, and Toyota Prius. And then there is the whole business of Infiniti putting more effort into making concept cars than figuring out what they should actually make.

But I digress. Despite being a giant, Nissan seems to be very reactive rather than proactive. When someone said that SUVs are popular they tossed everything aside to make SUVs while letting their cars wilt away. They keep insisting that the traditional sports car is dying while consciously avoiding any products with a performance pretence save for their halo, the GT-R.

Ah yes the GT-R. Built on Nissan’s very best technology and nostalgia. It is Nissan’s hero car that both management and fans will defend to the death. Pity that it isn’t nearly as relevant or relatable to Nissan as a whole because for much of the GT-R’s history, it was just an obscure legend to the rest of the world. Only when the R32 GT-R pissed off the Australians at Bathurst and dominated the All Japan Touring Car Championship did it step into the limelight, whereas the R34 GT-R shot to fame through the magic of the silver screen and Gran Turismo.

I would argue that instead of the all-conquering GT-R, Nissan owes much of its fanbase to its affordable sports cars like the Bluebird, the 180SX, the Silvia, and the Z. You dream of the GT-R, but buy a Silvia. Nowadays you dream of the GT-R, but buy a Juke? There isn’t even a Nissan hot hatch for a sales rep to tempt you into, and that is what Nissan doesn’t seem to get.

The ‘affordable sports car isn’t supposed to make money by itself on its own merits. You build and market a halo model like the GT-R to sell the ‘affordable alternative’ in the same way having something like the NSX is supposed to add some legitimacy to the resurrected Civic Type R and the S660.

Nissan seems adamant on waiting to see if the sports car market will grow or if there is room to squeeze theirs in. Which is odd for a big player. They aren’t biting the bullet, taking the risk, wielding their resources, and following that age old saying “if you build it, they will come”.

Sure, they were one of the spearheads of electric cars, but since the Leaf, they have yet to show acts of a market leader and shape the market in its own image, instead, leaving the doors wide open for the upstart, Elon Musk, to waltz in and overshadow their leadership. Customers like buying from leaders. They like to be associated with proactive brands that seem to be driving the conversation and steering the industry. Something which Nissan, is in the prime position of doing.

And sadly, like the indecision on the Z, this conservative wait-and-see outlook will cast a huge shadow on the brand’s standing in the eyes of the public, which bode ill fortunes as surely as the sun sets in the west.

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