We attended the re-launch of the Datsun brand in South Africa and saw the reveal of the first model that’ll be available by the final quarter of 2014. We spoke to corporate vice president of Nissan and global head of Datsun, Vincent Cobee, and the rest of the Datsun team, about the brand’s future
Q: Re-launching Datsun to South Africa (and the world) must be quite a challenge, but a fun exercise nonetheless considering the heritage?
A: The Western world has traditionally built expensive cars that cater for one-third of the world’s population – Datsun will change that. The 21st century is the first time large developing populations like India, China, Russia and Africa are getting purchasing power. This represents a massive opportunity for the right brand with the right values. Datsun sold 20 million cars across 190 countries before 1981 so it’s a new brand with a new business model but it’s also not new at all. Our task is made easier in South Africa because of Datsun’s market leadership between 1976 and 1978 the only country in the world to have had Datsun as its number one brand.
Q: How long has the modern Datsun brand been in the pipeline and what’s the growth plan?
A: The Datsun adventure kicked off four years ago but things are moving quickly. At its core is the philosophy of “global brand with local execution”. Datsun is supported by Nissan but it relies on local market knowledge, local production, local parts and local engineering. We’ve so far introduced one car into markets in India (with the Go); Russia (with the On-Do sedan) and Indonesia and soon an MPV will be joining the fray¦ but none of them is the same product, each is unique to each market and its specific conditions. It will be South Africa’s turn (with the Go) in the final quarter of 2014. We’re expecting half the sales volume of Nissan to be made up by Datsun, before long.
Q: Contrary to the Datsun business model, South Africa will import the Go from India rather than produce them locally, what does this mean for pricing and planned African expansion?
The key for the Datsun Go is a low transaction price. We’re adamant one of the models sold in South Africa in the fourth quarter must sell for below R100 000. Product durability is another consideration, and more importantly, to bring respect to those buying cars in emerging markets for the first time. In India, for example, many will part with two years of disposable income to purchase their first car. This means their first car is like the realisation of a dream. We don’t have plans to manufacture the Go in South Africa just yet because the economic equation doesn’t support it in South Africa, but it’s still early days and we have identified growth potential into Africa so export-based manufacturing could definitely change if South Africa can guarantee predictability.
Q: What dealership set up will Datsun explore?
A: Sales and service will be initially established through a network of 30 Datsun-branded dealerships set up in existing Nissan dealerships throughout South Africa, a number to hopefully be doubled in the mid-term.
Q: As a car, what can we look forward to in the new Datsun Go?
A: In creating the Datsun Go we have designed a brand new car that offers all the benefits of models that are much more expensive. Our car features class leading levels of performance, economy and handling. It is built to requirements and not down to a price. The addition of the many advanced features proves this.
A brief overview of the Datsun Go after the reveal shows it to be a five-door hatchback built on existing Nissan Micra architecture. It features the same 50kW and 104Nm 1.2-litre three-cylinder engine as the Micra and Datsun says it’ll consume a claimed/combined figure of 4.8 litres /100km. Air conditioning is standard, as is a USB port to connect your mobile phone for music (yes, there’s no radio) and the boot is capable of swallowing 265 litres of luggage. Although final specification is far from settled for the final quarter, Nissan South Africa says the entry-level Go will be priced below R100 000 but we understand from speaking to those who’ve been on dealer training that that’s without anti-lock brakes (ABS) or airbags. ABS and a driver and passenger airbag will cost an additional R10 000 R15 000.