New Nissan brand will split old and young

The young might think the box-like Datsun brand boring.

The news that Nissan is to bring back its Datsun brand for emerging world markets will be greeted differently depending on the age of the greeter.

Not seen in the UK for more than 30 years, and not likely to be back here for the foreseeable future, the Datsun brand will mean different things to different people. For those of an older persuasion it will be the brand that slammed another nail into the coffin of the British car industry by showing up British brands like Austin. For those of a slightly younger status, it will mean boring reliable boxes of the early 1980s, before the Nissan brand superseded Datsun in 1983.

But from 2014, Nissan wants its Datsun name to mean affordable budget cars for the masses in countries like India, Russia and Indonesia, where the cars, that are already under development, will be built. Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn revealed his goal of “mobility for all”, targeting those people that currently ride motorbikes or used cars, but want a new one. Ghosn thinks Nissan is missing out on 40% of the market in those countries he’s aiming at, because Nissan cars aren’t cheap enough to appeal to less wealthy buyers.

Ghosn has a pedigree for masterminding such moves. Nissan’s sibling Renault, which Ghosn also heads, has achieved massive success with the Dacia brand across eastern Europe in particular. Originally conceived as a way of tapping into the less wealthy markets as a budget alternative to Renault, Dacia has been Europe’s fastest-growing brand for the last six years, achieved a Car of the Year shortlist and established itself in the tough German market thanks to appealing no-frills products launched at a time where wallets have come under almost unprecedented pressure. The European plan will be complete when Dacia launches into the UK early next year, something that wasn’t initially planned but brought on by the brand’s snowballing success.

But that doesn’t mean we’ll see Datsuns back in the UK for many years yet. Ghosn was keen to emphasis that Datsun is devised specifically for high-growth emerging markets, though response to being asked if it will be launched in Japan was to refuse to rule it out. “We’re business people,” he said. “We should never say never, but it’s not planned.”

The goal is to have a premium brand - Infiniti in Nissan’s case; a core mainstream one; and a budget alternative that means they don’t have to cheapen and damage the mainstream one to appeal to a lower-income audience. Starting with a brand recognised for strength and reliability, and bringing modern cheap cars onto the radar of buyers used to old-tech used models is a logical move, and one that could reap huge rewards for Nissan if Ghosn can repeat his Dacia success.

Paul Barker is group automotive editor at BusinessCar.co.uk.

Nissan Chairman, Getty images.

Paul Barker is group automotive editor at BusinessCar.co.uk.

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Why the Liberal Democrats by-election surge is not all it seems

The Lib Dems chalked up impressive results in Stoke and Copeland. But just how much of a fight back is it?

By the now conventional post-Brexit logic, Stoke and Copeland ought to have been uniquely inhospitable for the Lib Dems. 

The party lost its deposit in both seats in 2015, and has no representation on either council. So too were the referendum odds stacked against it: in Stoke, the so-called Brexit capital of Britain, 70 per cent of voters backed Leave last June, as did 62 per cent in Copeland. And, as Stephen has written before, the Lib Dems’ mini-revival has so far been most pronounced in affluent, Conservative-leaning areas which swung for remain. 

So what explains the modest – but impressive – surges in their vote share in yesterday’s contests? In Stoke, where they finished fifth in 2015, the party won 9.8 per cent of the vote, up 5.7 percentage points. They also more than doubled their vote share in Copeland, where they beat Ukip for third with 7.3 per cent share of the vote.

The Brexit explanation is a tempting and not entirely invalid one. Each seat’s not insignificant pro-EU minority was more or less ignored by most of the national media, for whom the existence of remainers in what we’re now obliged to call “left-behind Britain” is often a nuance too far. With the Prime Minister Theresa May pushing for a hard Brexit and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn waving it through, Lib Dem leader Tim Farron has made the pro-EU narrative his own. As was the case for Charles Kennedy in the Iraq War years, this confers upon the Lib Dems a status and platform they were denied as the junior partners in coalition. 

While their stance on Europe is slowly but surely helping the Lib Dems rebuild their pre-2015 demographic core - students, graduates and middle-class professionals employed in the public sector – last night’s results, particularly in Stoke, also give them reason for mild disappointment. 

In Stoke, campaign staffers privately predicted they might manage to beat Ukip for second or third place. The party ran a full campaign for the first time in several years, and canvassing returns suggested significant numbers of Labour voters, mainly public sector workers disenchanted with Corbyn’s stance on Europe, were set to vote Lib Dem. Nor were they intimidated by the Brexit factor: recent council by-elections in Sunderland and Rotheram, which both voted decisively to leave, saw the Lib Dems win seats for the first time on massive swings. 

So it could well be argued that their candidate, local cardiologist Zulfiqar Ali, ought to have done better. Staffordshire University’s campus, which Tim Farron visited as part of a voter registration drive, falls within the seat’s boundaries. Ali, unlike his Labour competitor Gareth Snell and Ukip leader Paul Nuttall, didn’t have his campaign derailed or disrupted by negative media attention. Unlike the Tory candidate Jack Brereton, he had the benefit of being older than 25. And, like 15 per cent of the electorate, he is of Kashmiri origin.  

In public and in private, Lib Dems say the fact that Stoke was a two-horse race between Labour and Ukip ultimately worked to their disadvantage. The prospect of Nuttall as their MP may well have been enough to convince a good number of the Labour waverers mentioned earlier to back Snell. 

With his party hovering at around 10 per cent in national polls, last night’s results give Farron cause for optimism – especially after their near-wipeout in 2015. But it’s easy to forget the bigger picture in all of this. The party have chalked up a string of impressive parliamentary by-election results – second in Witney, a spectacular win in Richmond Park, third in Sleaford and Copeland, and a strong fourth in Stoke. 

However, most of these results represent a reversion to, or indeed an underperformance compared to, the party’s pre-2015 norm. With the notable exception of Richmond’s Sarah Olney, who only joined the Lib Dems after the last general election, these candidates haven’t - or the Lib Dem vote - come from nowhere. Zulfiqar Ali previously sat on the council in Stoke and had fought the seat before, and Witney’s Liz Leffman and Sleaford’s Ross Pepper are both popular local councillors. And for all the excited commentary about Richmond, it was, of course, held by the Lib Dems for 13 years before Zac Goldsmith won it for the Tories in 2010. 

The EU referendum may have given the Lib Dems a new lease of life, but, as their #LibDemFightback trope suggests, they’re best understood as a revanchist, and not insurgent, force. Much has been said about Brexit realigning our politics, but, for now at least, the party’s new normal is looking quite a lot like the old one.