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For those of a slightly younger status, it will mean boring reliable boxes of the early 1980s, before the Nissan brand superseded Datsun in 1983.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

Nissan Chairman, Getty images.

Paul Barker is group automotive editor at

Photo: Getty Images
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How can Britain become a nation of homeowners?

David Cameron must unlock the spirit of his postwar predecessors to get the housing market back on track. 

In the 1955 election, Anthony Eden described turning Britain into a “property-owning democracy” as his – and by extension, the Conservative Party’s – overarching mission.

60 years later, what’s changed? Then, as now, an Old Etonian sits in Downing Street. Then, as now, Labour are badly riven between left and right, with their last stay in government widely believed – by their activists at least – to have been a disappointment. Then as now, few commentators seriously believe the Tories will be out of power any time soon.

But as for a property-owning democracy? That’s going less well.

When Eden won in 1955, around a third of people owned their own homes. By the time the Conservative government gave way to Harold Wilson in 1964, 42 per cent of households were owner-occupiers.

That kicked off a long period – from the mid-50s right until the fall of the Berlin Wall – in which home ownership increased, before staying roughly flat at 70 per cent of the population from 1991 to 2001.

But over the course of the next decade, for the first time in over a hundred years, the proportion of owner-occupiers went to into reverse. Just 64 percent of households were owner-occupier in 2011. No-one seriously believes that number will have gone anywhere other than down by the time of the next census in 2021. Most troublingly, in London – which, for the most part, gives us a fairly accurate idea of what the demographics of Britain as a whole will be in 30 years’ time – more than half of households are now renters.

What’s gone wrong?

In short, property prices have shot out of reach of increasing numbers of people. The British housing market increasingly gets a failing grade at “Social Contract 101”: could someone, without a backstop of parental or family capital, entering the workforce today, working full-time, seriously hope to retire in 50 years in their own home with their mortgage paid off?

It’s useful to compare and contrast the policy levers of those two Old Etonians, Eden and Cameron. Cameron, so far, has favoured demand-side solutions: Help to Buy and the new Help to Buy ISA.

To take the second, newer of those two policy innovations first: the Help to Buy ISA. Does it work?

Well, if you are a pre-existing saver – you can’t use the Help to Buy ISA for another tax year. And you have to stop putting money into any existing ISAs. So anyone putting a little aside at the moment – not going to feel the benefit of a Help to Buy ISA.

And anyone solely reliant on a Help to Buy ISA – the most you can benefit from, if you are single, it is an extra three grand from the government. This is not going to shift any houses any time soon.

What it is is a bung for the only working-age demographic to have done well out of the Coalition: dual-earner couples with no children earning above average income.

What about Help to Buy itself? At the margins, Help to Buy is helping some people achieve completions – while driving up the big disincentive to home ownership in the shape of prices – and creating sub-prime style risks for the taxpayer in future.

Eden, in contrast, preferred supply-side policies: his government, like every peacetime government from Baldwin until Thatcher’s it was a housebuilding government.

Why are house prices so high? Because there aren’t enough of them. The sector is over-regulated, underprovided, there isn’t enough housing either for social lets or for buyers. And until today’s Conservatives rediscover the spirit of Eden, that is unlikely to change.

I was at a Conservative party fringe (I was on the far left, both in terms of seating and politics).This is what I said, minus the ums, the ahs, and the moment my screensaver kicked in.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.