QotW: What car should Nissan build next?

Carlos “Le Cost Killer” Ghosn came to Nissan at a time when the company was in massive debt, due partially to the fact that it was building too many different and over-engineered cars. He started a ruthless cost-slashing campaign that pulled Nissan out of debt nearly two decades ago. But in more recent years, much of Nissan’s lineup has begun to feel like more of the same. With Ghosn gone, Nissan may have a chance to recapture some of its soul. Take a gander at Nissan’s lineup from 1991 for inspiration, or come up with something completely different.

What car should Nissan build next?

The most entertaining comment by next Monday will receive a prize. Scroll down to see the winner of last week’s QotW, “What JNC represents 1989 the best?

There were many, many great comments and it was truly challenging to choose a single winner. Dankan mades a compelling case for Z32. Tom Westmacott lobbied hard for the S13 180SX. Sammy B came out of left field with the Previa. Many more picked the R32, but in the end Jeremy A convinced us that the humble EF Honda Civic made the most difference:

The 4th Gen Honda Civic. It was this generation that really started to cement the Civic, at least in North America, as the “performance family car” across all trim levels, and paved the way for the ubiquity of the Civic on American roads during the 1990s. There were other cars that catered the the Baby Boomer preference for a combination of performance and practicality, but none of them seemed to be quite so widespread as the Civic was at the end of the 80s and into the 90s. It came to become, and remain for most of the 90s, -the- car that represented “Import cars” as a whole.

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22 Responses to QotW: What car should Nissan build next?

  1. Mr. Bill said:

    The soul that Nissan built their customer loyalty and fanbase on was the “enthusiast car”. The brilliance of Nissan in the 1980s and 90s was that they brought an enthusiast flair to nearly every car, truck, or SUV in their line-up!
    Throughout these two decades, when Nissan placed an “R” or a “T” or a “NISMO” badge behind their SE, GTS, or (insert your model designation here) it was not a nod toward a dream by adding an aero package and red piping to the interior…the model had more power from a higher performance engine package, stiffer suspension that handled better, a grippier wheel/tire/brake package, and an available (if not obligatory) 5 or 6 speed transmission that necessitated left-footed interaction.

    Nissan needs to bring this enthusiast-soul back to their line-up…and for the love of Mr. K bring back an inexpensive rear-drive coupe or hatch!

  2. BlitzPig said:

    A new 510 is what is needed. And not a front driver either. A proper rear drive small, and I mean that, small sports sedan at a reasonable price. And please not some Akira-esque overstyled boy racer, like the current Civic Si. As good as that car is mechanically, it’s styling makes it a no sale. Give us the moves of a BMW, with the price and reliability of a good Japanese car, and give it to us now.

  3. Dankan said:

    Nissan’s problems are deep, and widespread.

    Both it and Renault have a large portfolio of cross-overs that are attractively-styled, less good versions of the competition. They had a pure electric on the market years ago (the Leaf) yet failed to make it in any way appealing. And they started the family sedan horsepower wars when they shoved a VQ in an Altima about 15 years back, but still couldn’t move the needle on sales.

    So, where do they go from here? It’s pretty clear that doing the same thing isn’t going to move the needle, but building a RWD Maxima, a new Silvia or even a new 510 won’t help. Car enthusiasts talk a long game that they don’t back up with their wallets.

    They need something that can sell well in many markets with build quality to turn the Nissan story around. And it must be good enough, and fun enough to get the kind of media attention cars don’t normally get anymore.

    This is essentially asking for the impossible, but Nissan needs a fun, funky family hauler that is unique and personalizable enough to be popular and sell well. It sounds prosaic, but if Nissan wants a future, they need to invent the future for everyone else, too.

  4. Negishi no Keibajo said:

    If it must be an SUV for the market, do they have to be so stinkin’ big? Do a Kei(size) based SUV with a robust chassis like the Jimny but in box form. The original Xb was a hit. Update it with today’s architecture like a Hybrid. After all, how far from a Jeep or Element is that? Just more useful.

  5. Mazluce said:

    I’m usually against badge engineerin but I really like the Alpine A110 and wish it was sold state side. What I think could work is something along the lines of Kia Stinger. Take the Maxima back to a rwd/awd platform and give it a hatch opening and let it be the 4 door sports car it was back when. In the dream category would be to build a rwd hatchback like Toyota was working on . It would have a small turbo engine and be a basis for enthusiasts to build upon and would be practical.

  6. datsunguy said:

    A new Z should be there somewhere, but they have to pay attention to what else is on the market. Mazda, Toyota, Honda et al have shown a dedicated sports car has its place in building image, but it can’t be a sheep in wolf’s clothing.

  7. alvin said:

    Heritage Edition Nissan Murano Convertible Hybrid Nismo

    Seriously though, Nissan you should just build the Z car. The rest will fall into place.

  8. エーイダン said:

    How about just bringing back the Silvia’s S15 Chassis? Make a new model, maybe a rebirth of the silvia or a Z with an S15 Chassis but with a lower price tag than a Z?

  9. Angelo said:

    A good, basic driver’s truck would be awsome.

    Like the Hardbody, something small, barebones yet powerful to haul your stuff around.

    Because, yeah, the Navara’s awesome and all.. But it lost the charm the rugged D21 had back then, especially utility wise.

  10. Tim said:

    Nissan doesn’t need “A” car. They need to fix their current lineup and look at the company’s mentality as a whole. Honestly, there’s very little wrong with the cars they sell today aside from a lack of soul. They’re trying hard to out-Toyota Toyota… But that’s the wrong direction to take. Instead, they should be trying to out-Mazda Mazda.

    According to Wikipedia, Nissan has 36 different vehicle chassis in production right now (not counting Infiniti!). It’s my opinion that’s far too many. Big/Medium/Small truck and car chassis. A single Kei chassis. Done. Using those seven chassis as a base, change up the body style as needed. Coupe/Sedan/Wagon/Hatchback/Minivan for unibody cars, RCSB/Crew-Cab/Van/Off-roader for body-on-frame, and who-knows-what for Kei car. (They’re just weird.) You can build a grand tourer off your big car chassis, a sports car off your small car chassis, etc. Because you’re not wasting resources on one-off models like you are right now, you can update the chassis on a regular schedule.

    For engine options, first off, every engine bay should physically fit every engine. (Excepting the Kei obviously.) Design a single 3/4/6/8-cylinder engine. Scale (literally) the engines according to vehicle needs (A la Mazda’s Skyactiv). Have the same bolt pattern on the rear for ALL engines. Wherever possible, just add cylinders to the end of the other engines. Make the heads reversible so you can use the 4-banger heads on the 8-cylinder and the kei heads on the 6-cylinder. Every vehicle should have a trim which has an engine with a minimum of a 1:10 power/weight ratio as an option. Your parts selection should be almost a tenth of what it is now, and you’ll get a TON more use out of your tooling. If you need to change the characteristics of the engine for the vehicles, you can do so via cam profiles and timing. No need for a different V8 for your grand tourer and your truck – 90% of the parts are the same.

    For transmission options, simplify the heck out of it. FWD/RWD/AWD Auto/Manual/DSG. One transmission of each type. Build the transmission to handle the torque from the largest engine that you have. Yes, that means that the transmission in your small FWD sedan will be massively overbuilt. That’s okay. That’s a GOOD THING. The R&D dollars you save vs. building multiple transmissions or repairing weak ones will easily make up for the cost of deploying so many overbuilt ones.

    Why do modern cars have different seats for every vehicle? And not only that, but different VERSIONS of the seats for each vehicle? Why couldn’t you just design two or three seats and make them fit in every vehicle you sell? The seat base is what determines height and angle. Vary that cheap piece of metal instead of making a new, complicated design for every single car you make. Have a comfy seat, a sporty seat, and an in-between. Design your seat electronics to work with all three. Want the sporty seat with 16-way adjustibility, the seat warmers, a/c, leather, and built-in speakers? Why the hell not? Want a barebones squishy/comfy cloth seat for your work truck? Heck, you’d be the only one in the market with one. You can keep Infiniti interiors separate if you want, but having some seat compatibility would not be a bad thing.

    When it comes to gadgets, don’t try to be an industry leader. That’s something that no car company seems to get these days. You’re not going to wow the millenials with your infotainment system, you’re just going to tick them off. Offer some basic functionality + Android Auto + Carplay. Anything more is annoying. Focus should be on how responsive the system is, not how good it looks. Screen sizes should be standardized at around double-DIN. Your postage-stamp sized backup camera in the last Altima I rented was absurd. Blind spot monitoring, OnStar, XM, adaptive cruise, lane departure warning, etc are all pretty nice, but should be available as individual options – not packages. THAT’S how you get young people to buy your cars. Let them customize them with the gadgets THEY want, not the ones you THINK they want. You might not think there’s a business case for a big high-rpm V-8 body-on-frame van with three pedals, a barebones interior, and line lock… But who knows – Maybe that’s EXACTLY what kids want these days. Why not let them build it?

    Your existing Infiniti dealership experience should be the barebones base model for a Nissan customer. It’s pretty decent and makes the customer feel good. But the future has very little to do with today’s dealership. You need to turn your showroom into a lounge with a couple of cars that demonstrate ALL the options available, and have places where the customer can sit down and build their car with an educated salesperson who is paid salary and does NOT get commission. There should be zero pressure. Cars sold off-the-lot should be trade-ins and last generation’s floor models only. There should be no reason that a customer would walk in and expect to walk out with a car on the same day. Home delivery options should be a thing – the customer should be able to have the car manufactured and delivered to their doorstep along with a bouquet of roses and a bag of swag if they so desire. Same with factory pickup. Turn the buying process into a vacation instead of a trial.

    You should have a department dedicated to social media. No, not just the company Facebook page. The enthusiast pages. The mechanic’s pages. The forums. The places where people bitch about how they paid $40,000 for their dream car only to discover that there’s a serious rust issue because the factory doesn’t bother to paint beneath the bumper beams. The people in this department should have the ear of the engineers, the floor workers, and the beancounters. Don’t bother sending out surveys. Listen to what’s already being said instead. If a certain dealership is getting creamed on social media, send in some undercover buyers and help them fix what’s wrong… Or pull their license. Attend the auto shows. Watch the aftermarket. Host events for your faithful. Be really in-touch with your customers without being pushy.

    • Mr. Bill said:

      And the award for “Best Answer to a Question that Wasn’t Asked” goes to…

      Seriously though, there are some great ideas in here. Hopefully Nissan has a few of those scourers of interweb-fanbases already in their employ.

  11. Tim said:

    I suppose I left out electric cars. Personally, I’d like to see Nissan spin off their electric into a completely different brand. Mimic the points in my above rant, but simplify even further. Build a battery sled and put whatever body you want on top of it. Like what Tesla did with the Model S and Model X, but stretched out across the entire lineup.

  12. Rio said:

    Everything Nissan had during early 70s & of course: iDX

  13. Clay said:

    I want a boxy sports sedan. The engine needs to have a torque rise with rpm to be thrilling – like the Miata team strives for.

  14. Ant said:

    A reprisal of some of Nissan’s lower-end fun cars would be nice, fronted by a reimagined NX (with a targa roof option for catching some rays), a B13 Sentra SE-R-style three-box coupe, perhaps a B14 200SX-style two-door coupe, and a compact, N15 Pulsar-style hatcback range topped by a proper hot hatchback. Oh, and a production IDx.

    Y’know, the kind of stuff that we all want but probably wouldn’t actually sell. Is that too much to ask?

  15. Power Tryp said:

    In order to answer this correctly we need to look at Nissan as a whole. Over the past nearly thirty years they’ve cut and slashed and went from an engineering powerhouse to a mid 2000’s toyota clone. Everything they’ve done is to cut cost and badge engineer their way into a safe yet secure bottom line.

    This has been profitable and with the exception of the GTR, the 370Z (which is long in the tooth) and most of Infiniti (which has also become a has run in its segment) there isn’t a lot there that doesn’t instantly make you think rental car.

    So to anyone who cares it’s easy to see what is missing. Excitement. Toyota is still battling it out in Nascar, won at LeMans and has reengaged WRC. Honda started their HPD to get back to their racing roots and will be a part of the WRX next year. Mazda stands as the enthusiast racer and operates multiple spec series to get people involved affordably. My dirty trick here is even Hyundai runs a WRC program and is heavily involved with the rapidly expanding TCR series.

    So how does Nissan create excitement and avoid direct competition with their Japanese (and Korean) counterparts?

    Drifting.

    It is still growing and gaining popularity and you can engage a younger audiance to develop a strong relationship. Ford used it to make more youth excited in the Mustang.

    So the first car that Nissan needs to make is a Silvia S16. However there are some caviets that I’m sure will excite the engineers. It needs to be similar in wheelbase and suspension layout to the previous generations. It also needs to have a large engine bay to acomodate engine swaps (RB anyone?) and finally it needs to be able to have an affordable base option but be modular enough that they can also reskin it into an infiniti where they will make most of their margin back.

    This car, properly backed through all major drift series will bring some attention back to Nissans engineering prowess and excitment to the younger drivers who are currently buying up Toyota 86’s and EcoBoost Mustangs.

  16. Tom Westmacott said:

    The trend for retro-styled cars hasn’t gone away; the Mini has become an entire brand, while the ailing Fiat group has its balance sheet propped up by the cute 500, still selling well a decade on. Nissan actually anticipated this trend by more than a decade, with its Pike project, created to bring some charm and passion to a competent but largely rectilinear 1980s lineup.

    So obviously, the best way to ring in the post-Ghosn era is to bring out a ‘neo-Pike’ car – only this time, rather than being hand-built and making buyers enter a lottery to get their hands on one, follow BMW and Fiat and gear up for profitable mass-production. The Pike car that made the biggest splash was surely the Figaro, which had a popular second life as a grey export from Japan. So what we need is a new Figaro, bringing back its lovely sixties curves and open top.

    However, to re-launch today, the Figaro II should have, not a forced-induction March engine and three-speed auto, but electric power. Most Figaros are used for short journeys anyway, so an e-Figaro would make the perfect stylish second car for urban use, as diesels are legislated out. Why pay for fuel when you can have the easy, immediate oomph away from the lights? Nissan already have a suitable component set in the Leaf, so it would hardly break the R&D budget.

    What would light our fire, however, would be the Figaro NISMO. This would use four small motors, one per wheel. Torque vectoring – like Gozilla’s ATTESA but more so – would then be merely a software tweak away. Combined with 50/50 balance and a low c.g., the Figaro II could transcend the original and be a true driver’s car.

    Boring commodity cars sell for commodity prices, ie low margins. Nissan, however, has the design skill and heritage to transcend this, and sell cars that owners care for. They did it before, with the original Figaro, and they could and should do it again 🙂

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