It is something that will become increasingly common: Japanese carmakers launch cars at home in Japan, long after they have been introduced to emerging and emerged market elsewhere. This seems to hurt Japanese feelings. Today, Nissan presented the Latio at its headquarters in Yokohama, and the usually polite assemblage of media representatives turned into a growling pack.
It probably did not help that Nissan had announced that the car “is already on sale in global markets including China, the United States and Thailand.” Nissan’s “global strategic model” successfully caters to the low price markets all over the world under various names (Tiida, Versa, Sunny, Almera, Pulsar, Scala, and possibly more,) but Japan had to wait. The patriotic sensitivities of the members of the Japanese press also seemingly were rubbed the wrong way by the fact that the car is made in Thailand, and imported to Japan.
A bow to Japanese intricacies in the shape of a rotating front seat did not mollify the media. “Those who wear skirts or a kimono can get out of the car elegantly,” we were told, but this did not keep an audibly upset reporter from delivering a long rant:
“As I expected, there is no headrest in the middle of the rear seat. How come Nissan can produce such a vehicle in these modern times? Rather than making the car cheaper, it is better to add the safety features. You always say fleet users are looking for something inexpensive, but that’s a mistake! They buy the cheap cars because the carmakers make them, if the cars would not be made, they would not be bought! The employees that drive these cars will think management does not value them, they will be demotivated, and as a result, this will damage the performance of the company, and competent people will leave the company. Nissan is producing such a vehicle, and I don’t like it.”
A visibly perturbed Executive Vice President Takao Katagiri said something about diverse needs of diverse target groups, and the precedence of better rear visibility over center headrests, but the media representatives kept piling on and complained about everything from the lack of tire pressure detection systems to the fact that rarely taken option combinations will take a long time until the boat from Thailand comes in.
The value proposition of a compact sedan seemed to be lost on Japan’s Fourth Estate. Even the Japanese price is not as great as elsewhere. In the U.S., the Versa is proud to have the lowest starting price of any new car in the U.S. ($10,990). In Japan, the most basic B trim costs 1,388,100 yen, or $17,638 in undervalued dollars.
Did they complain about that? No. They complained about deflationary pricing, and lambasted Nissan for demotivating the average salary man, and thereby hurting Japan’s competitiveness. No wonder Japanese carmakers leave the country.
Successfully. Nissan already sold more than 500,000 of the car elsewhere.