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CAR confidential: Filling gap in niche markets

Is niche the new mainstream? As the marketplace fragments yesteryear’s segments into ever smaller shards, you wonder how much life is left in traditional car types.

You know, hatchbacks, saloons and estates. The sort of thing we used to drive before marketing departments invented buzzwords like ‘crossovers’ and ‘SAVs’. Whatever they mean.

Nissan knows all about this. In the past five years, it has retreated from established sectors more visibly than any other car maker. Where is its C-segment Golf? The D-sector Mondeo? The decidedly grey-haired Almera and Primera were quietly euthanised, never to be replaced.

A bold decision, but is it working? The Qashqai is one oddball Almera successor: a crossover aimed squarely at urban buyers, an SUV with less of the 4x4 heft that makes off-roaders so unsuitable in these eco-aware times. It’s selling ahead of target, but it’s telling that Nissan is now talking about a supplementary traditional hatchback.

“We are working on mainstream cars – we know we cannot sell only niche cars,” reveals Shiro Nakamura, the company’s senior vice- president of design.

“If you don’t have a proper product in the big market segments, it’s very difficult to compete.

When we replaced the Almera, we studied normal hatchbacks and crossovers, and it was the right decision to do the Qashqai. But we are looking at mainstream hatchbacks for the future.”

Nakamura says it has been difficult in the past to build global cars, but reckons the world is shrinking. Tastes in the East and West are converging.

“That means it’s easier to make global cars. If we could have one single D-segment car it would be great for us. Something like the Intima could be sold around the world, giving us a mainstream car in every market.”

Don’t write off the old-fashioned saloon just yet, then.

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