By on February 8, 2022

Last week, Nissan – as part of the Renault Nissan Mitsubishi Alliance – announced an ambitious plan to invest 23 billion Euros in new products, starting with the all-electric Nissan Ariya crossover and compact Nissan Micra, as well as a commitment to developing a new type of solid-state battery that could rocket the company back to the forefront of the electric car market in a way that it hasn’t been since the original Nissan LEAF went into production all the way back in 2010. It was a bold statement of intent, but one that begs the question: Can Nissan pull it off?

FIRST YOU HAVE TO CARE

Our own Matt Posky called last year’s Nissan Ambition 2030 presentation “an hour of wishful thinking“, rightly pointing out that the company had closed out 2020 with a raft of layoffs and billions in losses, that, if a bevy of poorly-conceived, hastily rendered CGI concepts was the best Nissan could hope for, it was well and truly lost.

This, of course, came less than six months after Corey Lewis’ op-ed piece titled “Nissan Definitely No Longer Cares About the Maxima” wherein he exposed a number of shocking build quality issues that might not upset the Tesla crowd, but which certainly didn’t seem like the result of a company that cared about its product … but Nissan used to care.

Nissan used to care so much about its product, in fact, that it once did something that seems unthinkable in today’s modular-construction, Ultium electric-skateboard-platform EV age. And what made that “something” all the more astonishing was that they didn’t do this for the six-figure GT-R or some 370Z halo car – they did it for the lowly Nissan Cube.

What is that something? They built an entirely new body for RHD and LHD markets.

That’s right. Where most companies would simply move the car’s controls from one side to the other and do whatever they could to mask the fact that they did so as inexpensively as possible, the once-upon-a-time Nissan of yore took its most famously asymmetrical subcompact – the Nissan Cube – and built a complete mirror-image of the “home market” RHD model for LHD markets. This is a massive commitment to two sets of stampings, two sets of expensive window shapes, two sets of stuff I probably haven’t even considered, and it was all done for what? To eliminate a blind spot?

Can you imagine the levels of giving a fuck you would have to have to sit in a board room and argue that you should spend millions of dollars in tooling and certification and assembly line re-jiggering because someone, somewhere else, might have a bit of a blind spot when they look over their right shoulder?

I don’t know know, but I just know that arguing for something like this would be a career-ender at GM or Chrysler. Nissan, however, didn’t just listen to that unnamed engineer (it had to be an engineer), they went ahead and did it. They built an entire mirror-image of their home market Cube, and they did it so quietly that I bet more than a few of you reading these words never even realized they’d done it.

WHEN NISSAN CARES AGAIN

As an ex-Switzer guy and well-documented Nissan GT-R/Infiniti G20t fan, myself, Corey’s piece stuck with me. I remember eagerly awaiting the then-new Maxima back in 2015 and didn’t think twice about the car’s nearly $40,000 price tag.

“It’s a Maxima,” I thought. “It’s the four-door sports car, after all. Of course it’s expensive.”

Nissans were always well-built cars. Until they weren’t, that is – and it seems as if, while I was away selling Volvos and Harleys, Nissan cars became better known for CVT failures and weird noises than for being athletic, sporty cars. The Japanese counterpart of BMW that I’d grown up with just wasn’t there anymore. But perhaps that was a question of leadership.

Nissan under Carlos Ghosn was once again profitable, but only in the aftermath of a radical overhaul that earned the CEO a nickname that stuck with his colleagues at Renault: Le Cost Killer.

It’s hard to imagine someone called “Le Cost Killer” would go for something like the mirror-image Cube (even though Ghosn was at the helm when the Cube launched, I’d argue there’s a nonzero chance the thing was done quietly precisely for that reason), but Carlos’ exit from Nissan was so catastrophic that the man had to get wheeled out to an airplane in a suitcase and flown to Beirut in an attempt to avoid prison and a $90 million payout to Nissan. Now that he’s gone, who is in charge?

Nissan’s current CEO is Makoto Uchida, a man who graduated with a degree in theology from Doshisha University – and, if you can’t quite remember the last time a theologian took the top spot at a car company, you’re not alone. But, since the only thing Nissan fans can reasonably do is wait and pray that the next generation of electric Nissans born of the Renault Nissan Mitsubishi Alliance is more like the Cube and less like the most recent Maxima, he might just have the right background after all.

That’s my take, anyway – what’s yours? You’re the Best and Brightest, and if there’s anyone out there who can speak to Nissan’s future chances of redemption, I couldn’t tell you who they are.

[Images: Nissan]

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41 Comments on “Opinion: Nissan Used to Care. Does It Still Care?...”


  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Nissan went effectively bankrupt in 2001/02 and it reemerged as the Nissan-Renault Alliance under the helm of Carlos Ghosn. Nissan was brought back in part by riding the coat tails of the previous Nissan and cheapening the product. Now no one remembers the previous Nissan, they only remember Ghosn’s creation complete with CVT bombs, early rust issues, and the first mass production EV that nobody then or now cares about. I don’t know what the company’s financial situation happens to be, but IMHO Nissan and Infiniti are no longer relevant marques – they are “subprime” and “confused”. I’d say Nissan is a merger target but after the Ghosn affair I’m not sure the Japanese Government would be on board unless it was a Japanese major who acquired them.

    • 0 avatar
      CKNSLS Sierra SLT

      28-Cars-Later

      I’m not sure what there is to acquire. You have the Frontier and the Titan. The later of which is at a run rate of like 30,000/units a year and is over priced compared to the competition.

      Well…I guess Hyundai or KIA could use the trucks…..but obviously not Japanese companies.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        Not much worth buying at this point, the new Z could be interesting. The longtime Frontier was probably a value buy but I think they replaced it so I dunno. I personally would not buy a Titan due to its ridiculously low market share combined with general Nissan kwality.

        I don’t see Japan’s government signing off on a Hyundai acquisition so I doubt such a thing would occur.

        • 0 avatar
          ajla

          I could make an argument for the base Q50. It’s RWD, standard V6, starts at $42K, old platform, 100cuft interior space, 24MPG and the people that track such things give it good marks “We expect the 2022 Q50 will be much more reliable than the average new car.”

          “consumerreports.org/cars/infiniti/q50/2022/reliability”

          Lexus IS350 is about the same price but it is slower and smaller. Genesis G70 V6 is about the same price, is faster and more dynamic, but it is smaller, gets worse fuel economy and doesn’t have as good predicted reliability. The Chrysler 300S V8 is still there for low $40Ks too but it’s kind of a different thing.

  • avatar
    ajla

    “I remember eagerly awaiting the then-new Maxima back in 2015”

    Aside from pure nostalgia I’m not sure what would keep someone a Maxima fan after the FM-platform Infinities and V6 Altima were introduced.

    But no one cares about sedans. Nissan’s most recent failures have been:

    0. Changing the Pathfinder to a kind, gentle rounded family hauler right when that market was shifting into off-road looking stuff.
    1. All of Infiniti. How do you get your a$$ beat this bad by Genesis? They are just lucky Jaguar still technically exists.
    2. The 2G Titan. How do you fail so hard with a full-size truck in North America? Corey Jr is going to making a series about the Titan in 15 years.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      I forgot the Leaf. That was bad too. A chance to take a leadership in EVs that they squandered in spectacular fashion.

      • 0 avatar
        dukeisduke

        I laugh out loud when I see the new Nissan ad where Brie Larson talks about making your heart race by driving an electric car. Riiiiiight. And the Leaf is in the ad. Pathetic.

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      I agree with this list (including the Leaf) and would just add:

      – Failure to go all-in on the compact to midsize CUV until the latest Rogue. Previous Rogues were cheap also-rans in the segment, and there was never an attempt to develop a smaller Rogue variant. Nissan tried for a while to fill the price gap by selling the old Rogue cheap, which can work in trucks but rarely works in cars. Finally they did the right thing with the Kicks, but too late, and there’s still a gap.
      – Failure to commit hard to the Xterra. Both generations of Xterra were perfect for the purpose. Nissan skated to where the puck was going and they built great brand equity, which then they squandered by failing to develop a 3rd gen or even comprehensively update the 2nd gen. Imagine if they had pulled out all the stops for a 3rd gen in the early 2010s and were now introducing a 4th gen—they could be stealing some Bronco thunder.
      – Failure to seize the CVT bull by the horns. CVT Nissans almost all have a fuel economy advantage over the competition. They could have marketed that, added some sound deadening, thrown a long warranty to counteract the early reliability problems, and turned the CVT into an asset. Instead they let the press define the CVT as “droning” and didn’t fix the disadvantages of the early CVT cars.

      • 0 avatar
        CKNSLS Sierra SLT

        dal20402

        You do realize the Rogue is the third best selling CUV in the segment?

        • 0 avatar
          dal20402

          Yes. Until the current generation, it was still a crap product.

        • 0 avatar
          Funky D

          I own a RAV4. I have had Rogues as rentals for 2 different 400+ mile road trips. There is nothing the Rogue did that the RAV4 didn’t do better. It was a bit smaller on the inside, but a noticable bit. It wasn’t as refined, and the interior materials were a half-step down. It is a decent CUV, but has no compelling arguments to choose it over the 2 models ahead of it in the sales rankings.

      • 0 avatar
        Dave M.

        Have to disagree with a couple of these points; the gen 2 Rogue was considerably larger than gen 1 and it became a sales leader up there with the RAV4 and CRV. It’s every bit the same dimensions as those and could be equipped more luxuriously than the CRV for certain. The interior materials and build integrity on our 2018 SL is impressive. Maybe it’s because we have a “J” VIN.

        The X-Terra was a great vehicle, and yes, they should have kept updating it to today. One black mark was the engine/transmission cooling systems – at least 3 people I know had the failure issue which was very costly to repair. A very poor design that should been tossed once failure became more than a sporadic issue.

    • 0 avatar
      Lou_BC

      “How do you fail so hard with a full-size truck in North America?”

      Much worse than that. How do you fail so hard with a full-size truck powered by a CUMMINS in North America?

      Cummins saved Dodge trucks. WTF?

      • 0 avatar
        ajla

        When the Cummins went into the Ram in the late 80s that engine family had been out for 5 years in other applications and the complicatron diesel emission equipment didn’t exist.

        The 5.0L V8 was Cummins’ first V8 and had no lead time to get the kinks worked out in the field until it got dropped in the Titan XD so early buyers suffered a lot of issues.
        Then, almost no one aside from Nissan was interested in using the V8 so Cummins killed the motor altogether after only a few years because apparently there was no longer term production guarantees in place.
        Even beyond the engine the XD is poorly executed. The idea of a “heavy half” isn’t bad but DON’T MAKE IT THE SAME SIZE AS A 3/4 TON TRUCK. Unless you are adamantly against buying “domestic” I see no reason to go for it.

        • 0 avatar
          dal20402

          The 5.0L may have been the first V8 in the modern lineup, but it certainly wasn’t the first Cummins V8. I grew up riding in buses like the one in this video, powered by the Cummins VTB903, which was an absolute powerhouse by 1970s standards:

          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CR99e7OvQ9o

          (Skip to around the 4-minute mark to hear the bus accelerate onto the freeway. The driver has to back off the throttle to prevent running into the back of a modern Gillig bus powered by a Cummins ISM.)

  • avatar
    RHD

    Since Carlos left, it’s been all down hill. Oh, wait, it started before then.

  • avatar
    RedRocket

    Given the shocking ethical and moral lapses of Nissan’s top management team based on the accounts of Carlos Ghosn following his re-emergence in Lebanon after escaping their clutches and those with whom they were in cahoots within the Japanese legal system, I would suggest they only care about themselves.

  • avatar
    3800FAN

    90s Nissans were well built but disproportionally akward and sized wrong. Did you drive a 95-99 maxima 5 speed? If you did you must have been under 5′ 5″ cuz if you were not the shifter would be too far out of reach or your legs would be spilit open to operate the shifter making the clutch inoperable. Same went for the 240sx. Look at the gen 1 and gen 2 altima, too small to compete with the camry and accord. This is why they went under. Carlos saved them by getting the product right (02 altima) but then he cheaped out everywhere rhen made the gm mistake of getting addicted to fleet sales.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    With $90 billion in revenue (3/4 the size of GM), they’d better care.

    The Leaf was/is basically a good car. My 12 was ultra-reliable and well-built, but the primitive battery management was very disappointing.

    In 2011/2012, the talk was about the Leaf vs the Volt. Tesla was just getting started with the Model S, and the Roadster was a novelty. A decade later, the Volt is dead, the Leaf 2.0 is a reheated Leaf 1.0, and the Model S is a bit player in Tesla’s portfolio.

    Nissan didn’t care enough to maintain the Leaf’s early lead in the EV market. For years, they made more from the carbon credit scam than Tesla. It’s ironic that Nissan’s commitment to go all-EV trails everyone else, and the pending Ariya already looks like a dud on paper.

    Today, I’m not sure whether Nissan cares actually matters. What matters is whether the Renault-Mitsubishi-Nissan Alliance still cares.

  • avatar
    3800FAN

    Nissan began cheaping out before Carlos came along. I pin it on the 95 Maxima with no more IRS. Fwd, Solid beam rear axle a sports car? Nope.

  • avatar
    KOKing

    I DID notice the LHD/RHD Cube, specifically since I was a fan of the previous one which was RHD only with the same asymmetric tail, and during the same period BMW was too cheap to do a RHD Clubman bodyshell.
    Nissan had a reputation, at least in early days in Japan, as the engineering-driven company (similar to Chrysler’s in the US). Certainly that’s continued in places (R35), but definitely not in others (Jatco CVTs).
    I just serviced an Accord CVT w 95k mi on the clock and the pan and fluid looked great, completely unlike <50k Jatco units I've seen. But I've noticed Nissan's starting to outsource transmissions (Benz NAG3 for RWD, and ZF 9HP (granted not the most stellar itself) in the new pathy/QX60) so maybe those are small signs that they're actually regrouping.

  • avatar
    eggsalad

    I’m old enough to remember when Nissan/Datsun was a strong second to Toyota, and in some ways it was better, especially for cars oriented towards the enthusiast.

    I don’t know how it sells in the rest of the US, but here in the desert southwest, sales and marketing seem to be towards the Mexican-American (perhaps also Latin American in general?) population.

    Nissan is still seen in high regard in Mexico, so it makes sense that’s the target market in the US.

    • 0 avatar
      dukeisduke

      Yes, Nissan, er Datsun made solid cars, pretty much on par with Toyota. Not anymore.

      I see tons of new Nissans on the road (Sentras and Altimas, mainly, along with some Rogues), mostly sold with subprime financing.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    “Nissan” never cared, because in the pre-Ghosn days it was almost two separate companies under a common umbrella: the ultraconservative (even by Japanese standards) “old Nissan” side that managed to make Toyota look adventurous, and the former Prince side which leaned heavily toward the hip and sporty. The relative balance of stodgy versus fun depended on which faction was in ascendancy at the time.

  • avatar
    MitchConner

    If I was asked to write a tagline for Nissan it’d probably be along the lines of:

    Nissan. We’re all about movement. Bowel ones.
    Nissan. Mediocre. And built to stay that way.
    Nissan. It’s all downhill from here.
    Nissan. When life just didn’t work out the way you thought it would.

    From those grotesque Armadas and the rest of the dumb, unattractive stuff they make — it’s a brand that could fold tomorrow and wouldn’t be missed.

    Stuff like the 1990 or so Maxima 4DSC was actually pretty cool. Now? If I won anything Nissan made I’d dump it for cash.

    Can it be turned around? Sure:

    – The quick way is to get lucky with a really good product that takes off and inspires the company to up their game across the board — if it can somehow make it through their product development process where everything gets pecked to death by ducks.

    – The long way is to shake up management and change the company’s culture. That will be really hard. Japanese companies have scores of old, over the hill lifers hanging around headquarters and getting in the way of everything. And Japanese culture forces everyone to defer to them out of respect. Saw it at Sony as they did everything imaginable to goof up the PlayStation early on in the US. Fortunately, Kaz Hirai was a one in a million kind of guy to save it. Meanwhile, Nissan’s American operations are just loaded with bean counters and belt with suspenders types that are about as creative and risk taking as a level 3 assistant manager at a county government office — complete with “countdown to retirement” clock for a screen saver.

    The new Z has potential — but man does their Super Bowl ad with it stink. Just constipated beyond belief. That said, at least the Z doesn’t have that dumb corporate chrome handle grill on it so who knows.

  • avatar

    I have to make few points:
    1.Bankruptcy matters, nothing is free.
    2. Why Nissan is not part of Stellanicus?
    3. And why Mitsubishi?
    4. Shake up among Japanese makes is coming. They don’t have EVs.
    5. B&B left this site long time ago. Only we losers left.

    • 0 avatar
      B-BodyBuick84

      I can answer #3. Mitsubishi, despite it’s small size, somehow managed to create some of the best EV systems in the market. The Outlander PHEV is a direct competitor with the Toyota Rav4 Prime, and overshadows a lot of other larger traditional automakers in that regard. Nissan bought a majority stake in Mitsubishi solely for their battery and electric motors tech.

  • avatar
    Oberkanone

    Alfonso Albaisa leads design. Looking to the Z I’m of the opinion there is a shred of hope for Nissan to emerge from it’s current age of darkness and despair.
    Nissan concept I would most enjoy seeing in the showroom is IDx. 2013 is so long ago.

  • avatar
    wolfwagen

    I always hated the cube. Sure that weird asymmetrical design reduced blind spots, but only made the car uglier.

    I always thought the Cube was trying to catch up to the Scion XB and the Kia Soul. I remember the Scion commercials and the Kia Soul commercials (Hamsters!) But I honestly do ever remember seeing a commercial for the Cube

    • 0 avatar
      Nick_515

      I hated it too, when it came out.

      But… in the last two years, out of pandemic boredorm, we’ve turned from a one car household to a two car household. The OG second car, a dirt-cheap stick shift PT Cruiser set the tone: must be manual, must be boxy to serve as a real-mini-van for the large dog, and must be reasonably cheap/economical/reliable.

      I listed the PT Cruiser for twice what i paid for it, and it stunningly sold quickly for asking price. Then I looked for its replacement. A manual CUBE (the manual bit is non-negotiable) was IMPOSSIBLE to find. There are semi-serviceable Cubes out there, but no manuals. I wanted one bad, in a crazy color. No dice. I was looking at them all, Soul, xB, 500L, another second gen PT Cruiser. In the end, I found something that fit the bill, but came out of the left field, and am very happy with it. But I still look up any Cubes that come up within a 300 mile radius….

  • avatar
    jeanbaptiste

    See me riding in the ’03 Altima, feeling like a boss
    ‘Cause I just got paid and I got the day off
    60 hours last week, that’s 700 bucks
    Now I can pay my speeding ticket and buy bud

  • avatar
    Imagefont

    I almost bought a first Gen Xterra but ended up with a safer choice in a Honda CRV with a 5-speed. The actress had the old 3.3L V6 which was slow, underpowered and had a reputation for getting 13mpg in the city and less than 20 on the Highway and I was hedging my bets on gas prices, and I was right. Also, all the plastics on the Xterra disintegrated rapidly and the interior and seats also fell apart. That car was junk and lacked the quality of other Japanese car. My CRV has the K24A engine and that thing is never going to stop. Money spent on the Nissan is wasted.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    Here’s Nissans new competitor https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q8siHtfoL5g&ab_channel=Ed%27sAutoReviews

  • avatar
    Irvingklaws

    Retro-inspired 240z EV

  • avatar
    dusterdude

    2 comments

    1) cube has to one of the top 10 ugliest vehicles made in the last 50 years

    2). Nissan has made some decent vehicles in the last 20 years ( I had a 2006 Sentra with the 1.8 liter and when I sold it at 150k mikes it was running well ..)

  • avatar
    BSttac

    2003 to 2008 was peak Nissan/Infiniti. They will never regain what they once had especially with everyone making the same EV (SUV) with no distinction between brands. The good news for Nissan is everyone is doing this so natural attrition of brands will happen with in the next five years as it won’t matter what brand of car you have unless you are talking about a luxury car where the badge matters (to some). It was nice knowing you Nissan. Next time just fire Carlos.

  • avatar
    monkeydelmagico

    Does Nissan still care? Yes but not about good cars. With a 600ish fico and a willingness to sign anything you can get that new car stank. NMAC guts another fish.

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