Nissan to bring Infiniti, GT-R sports car to India4 min read . Updated: 30 Sep 2014, 06:44 PM IST
India chief Takashi Hata says Nissan plans to strengthen Datsun brand, admits India not treated equally or fairly
New Delhi: Nissan Motor Co. will launch its premium brand Infiniti and sports car GT-R, build a compact sports utility vehicle (SUV), and strengthen the Datsun brand as part of its India plans, an executive in the company’s global leadership team said.
Without disclosing if both Infiniti and GT-R will be made in India, Takashi Hata, Nissan’s chairman for India, Africa and West Asia, said talks with headquarters are on regarding local production to make them competitive.
“At the very high end, we will have to go to this area of Infiniti and GT-R and I am sure Indian market is going to grow in this segment," Hata said in an interview. “If I am convinced that it is going to drive up the value of the brand, we are going to bring in the cars."
It will take at least three-four years before Nissan introduces these two models in the country, a company executive said, on condition of anonymity.
India’s luxury market—dominated by German firms such as BMW, Audi and Mercedes and the Tata Motors Ltd-owned Jaguar-Land Rover—sees annual sales of about 40,000 units. Between April and August, Nissan’s India sales grew 116.42% to 21,594 units while the overall market grew 4.46% to 1.02 million units. Luxury car makers do not share sales data on a monthly basis.
The GT-R cannot be made in India since it will be a low-volume car, said Hormazd Sorabjee, editor of Autocar India. And for the Infiniti, the company will have to import it in completely knocked-down kits to make it competitive, he added.
“India has not been treated equally or fairly (by the company)," Hata admitted, pointing to Nissan’s market position in North America, China and Japan, where it is a player with more heft. He says Nissan has learnt a lesson from this. In December, Nissan carved out six regions by strategic importance, one of which is India, which Hata heads.
Nissan has unveiled concept models of the Infiniti Q30 hatchback and the QX30 crossover, which could suit India. These products are expected to make their global debut in 2015. The Q30 will take on the BMW 1 Series, Audi’s A3 and the Mercedes A-class.
“If it happens, we need to challenge the CBU (completely built-up unit) import barriers," Hata said. As of now, car CBUs face an import duty of up to 120% for a unit.
It isn’t exactly clear how the company hopes to do this, although Hata hinted at a localization approach.
Hata indicated that Nissan may have to make investments “associated with volumes".
Sorabjee expects double-digit growth in the luxury car market in the next five years due to the “very small base".
“I expect Infiniti to sell 2,000 cars a year if it has a decent sales network," he said.
The surging demand for so-called compact SUVs, shorter than 4 metres, has also caught Nissan’s attention. It is working on a such a model, specifically for India. While the Ford Ecosport has sold more than 65,000 units since its launch in June 2013, the Renault Duster has sold 102,190 units since its launch in July 2012, and the Nissan Terrano, a rebranded Duster (the two firms are affiliates), sold as many as 22,730 units from its launch in October 2013 till August this year.
Still, the Duster came first, and it is the vehicle that turned around Renault’s fortunes in India.
“We have to start with a smaller SUV. I would like to be a leader in that segment. We have started working on a product internally. If not next year, then immediately after that," Hata said.
“If Nissan is a global leader in SUVs, then there is a clear message. In India market, SUVs are very acceptable and I am sure it is going to happen."
Hata said Nissan needs to grow in the sedan segment and its entry-level sedan Sunny “needs to be centre of that segment in India for the next 10 years or so".
Nissan’s ambitious relaunch of Datsun remains “just a start", admitted Hata, who said he is “patient" about it. “Every kind of new brands and new models has some history to go. I know what to do and I am going to improve the situation," he said.
Launched in March, Datsun sold 7,484 units until August. Nissan is targeting a 10% market share in India by 2016 and has given a key role for Datsun in this journey. The Indian market is expected to grow to five million passenger cars by then.
“You can say that there are a lot of things which should have been better, but still it is within our expectations... It is too early to judge," Hata said.
Hata said he had to begin with a new distribution set-up after scrapping the tie-up with Hover Automotive. Nissan is currently establishing its own dealers in the country.
“We inherited the old setup of at least 128 dealers, covering this big country, which I am very sure is not enough and that I am going to improve, not only quantitatively but quality-wise. So, we have many things to do. So, it’s not only Datsun, but Nissan as a whole that needs an improvement and we are in the middle of that process," he said.