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Market trends: Dull is the new interesting

At the Geneva motor show, two Nissans caught the eye of journalists. The Juke was what we have come to expect from Nissan – a funky appealing little brother to the Qashqai.

But the car that really startled the hacks was the Micra: our brows furrowed and we wondered what Nissan was thinking of. “It looks like a 1990s Daihatsu” said one. “It actually looks older than the Micra it replaces,” said another.

While too polite to say it, what Nissan was probably thinking was: “It’s not about you.” Nissan is playing a much bigger game – and one that has implications for the whole industry.

Superminis are increasingly global products and Nissan has taken a long hard look at which markets matter.

A clue to just how far Europe comes down the pecking order can be seen from the fact that there is no diesel and no three-door in the new Micra range – thus cutting the car off from an increasing share of the segment.

This is a car designed for emerging markets in Asia and, if a few old dears in Britain want to pootle to the shops in one, that is fine.

The utilitarian Micra looks to European eyes as if it has missed the point – it could not be further away from the smash-hit Ford Fiesta if it had been designed on Mars.

But that is because we are missing the point. Everyone talks glibly about global products, but the world is not homogenous. Nissan has taken the pragmatic view that an Asian-focused shopping-trolley will do better business in more markets than a Euro-centric designer product: Europeans can always buy the Juke instead.

It is fascinating that Nissan is taking exactly the opposite approach to Ford, which is globalising a product in the Fiesta that epitomises all that is best in European design.
Right now it is impossible to know which is the better approach.

It is even possible that they are both right: so far, Americans seem fascinated by the new Fiesta, regarding it as a more practical alternative to the Mini. It could be that either extreme is a defensible position, while it is the mediocre not-quite-designer, not-quite econobox models that have no future.

So when you see the new Micra on the road, suppress the temptation to yawn – or laugh.
Despite the fact Europe invented the supermini with the Fiat 127 and Renault 5, India now buys twice as many of them as Britain, and the gap can only widen.

There are good reasons why it looks like it does and it is unlikely to be the last car to worry more about the needs of buyers in Delhi than Dunstable.

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