Nissan, Please

Chris Tonn
by Chris Tonn

Last fall, we had a typical-for-TTAC slap fight between Bark and Mark, centered around Nissan. I’ve been ruminating on this argument for months, but my conversation last week with NISMO chief Hiroshi Tamura — and seeing what Nissan chose to feature in New York — finally pushed me over the edge.

As I walked through the glass doors in the Jacob Javits Center last Wednesday morning, preparing for my first auto show as a member of the press, the automaker that’s defined much of my motoring life was front and center.

Somewhat inexplicably, Nissan had rented possibly the best, highest-traffic space in the entire hall and filled it with a tribute to a six-figure supercar, complete with a bunch of old cars the U.S. never saw when new.

In speaking with Tamura-san, I recognized his passion for the GT-R all too clearly. I share a similar passion for the other Nissan sportscar: the Z.

While I didn’t expect a glittery booth with barely dressed models draped over a bunch of Versas, I did anticipate a representative sample of Nissan’s current lineup. A new Maxima, a Rogue, perhaps the new non-XD Titan?

Maybe a Z?

No, the rest of the lineup was down in the forgotten basement, among the trucks and some tuner cars. I actually had to look at my show program to recall Nissan had another space beyond the GT-R exhibit.

Let’s briefly pause to state the obvious. I’m a Z fanatic, quite literally from birth. I came home from the hospital as nine pounds of newborn ballast in my dad’s 1974 260Z. I’m a bit ashamed by the wire wheels, but dad had recently moved on from British sports cars and I’m guessing these helped him with the transition. A long string of Z cars, of every pre-2000 generation, followed.

In my teen years, my father and I restored this tennis-ball-yellow 1973 240Z. Upon turning 16, he offered it to me. My pragmatic side unexpectedly surfaced, and I refused for the sake of the rust-free steel, knowing well the damage caused by the combination of a young driver and an Ohio winter can inflict. Assuming I’d simply get a job and walk to work until I could afford a beater, dad instead sold the Z and bought me an old Maxima. Though I loved the old shoebox Max, I’m still kicking myself.

Moreover, Nissan built cars that people wanted. The original Z was a lightweight, inexpensive (before additional dealer profit) sportscar that competed with and beat the contemporaries from Great Britain. Later years brought Brougham-tastic features to the increasingly heavy Z, but they kept selling. They met the desires of the buyers. And I’ll use any excuse to link to the legendary “Black Gold” commercial. So here it is.

Whether the “Win on Sunday, Sell on Monday” mantra is anecdotal or fact, Nissan/Datsun connected with current and potential owners through motorsports. I spent many summer weekends with my parents, facing backward in the hatch of whatever Z dad owned then, headed north to Mid-Ohio. I sat right against the catch fence, watching my Nissan-driving heroes speed by. Later in the afternoon, we’d grill burgers on a camp stove with dozens of dad’s Z-driving friends gathered near the one flushing toilet in the infield spectator area.

Back to the GT-R. As mentioned frequently last week, Nissan turned 1105 of these last year, compared to 7391 370Zs, according to GoodCarBadCar.net. Looking at the chart and discounting the pony cars and Corvette, affordable, sporty cars do sell well. The WRX/STi duo accounted for 33,734 units, and Volkswagen moved 23,669 examples of the Golf R, and another 4,141 GTIs. Even the Toyobaru twins sold 15,803 combined cars, just shy of the Z (7,391) and the Miata (8,591) combined.

Looking at the top sellers, it’s quite clear that practical hatchbacks with plenty of power are what people want. The Z, Miata, FR-S/BRZ combo are either underpowered or storage space-limited. Automakers are building cars that enthusiasts say they want but that no one is buying.

It’s been rumored that the Z, having been killed off once before, will be reanimated as a “sporty” CUV. While I’m not going to argue that this will sell well, I plead with Nissan to keep the Z badge for an appropriate sports car.

Look at Mini. BMW acquired an iconic brand, and started building a small (though OG Mini-dwarfing) hatch. This was proper use of the badge. But the new models, such as the Countryman, are certainly not mini, and dilute the brand into a joke, no matter how good the cars are.

Nissan, please don’t make this mistake. Tamura-san, show some love for us fanatics. Save the Z, and save your soul.

[Images: Top, Nissan USA; Mini, Mini USA; Sales Chart, Tim Cain/ GoodCarBadCar.net; Others, © 2016 Chris Tonn/The Truth About Cars]

Chris Tonn is a broke classic car enthusiast that writes about old cars, since he can’t afford to buy them. Commiserate with him on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.

Chris Tonn
Chris Tonn

Some enthusiasts say they were born with gasoline in their veins. Chris Tonn, on the other hand, had rust flakes in his eyes nearly since birth. Living in salty Ohio and being hopelessly addicted to vintage British and Japanese steel will do that to you. His work has appeared in eBay Motors, Hagerty, The Truth About Cars, Reader's Digest, AutoGuide, Family Handyman, and Jalopnik. He is a member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, and he's currently looking for the safety glasses he just set down somewhere.

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  • DenverMike DenverMike on Apr 01, 2016

    Halo cars do nothing for building the brand or boosting sales of everyday, bread-n-butter cars. They're a huge waste and all about ego. The typical Altima buyer hasn't a clue what a GT-R is. If a fanboy drools over the GT-R, it ends there. They'll buy the '99 slammed Acura. Ford laid out the perfect 'pony car' business plan for Nissan and others to follow, but they think they know better.

  • Pete Zaitcev Pete Zaitcev on Apr 01, 2016

    The chart omits NISMO Juke.

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