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For those of a slightly younger status, it will mean boring reliable boxes of the early 1980s, before the Nissan brand superseded Datsun in 1983.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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Arsène Wenger: how can an intelligent manager preside over such a hollowed-out team?

The Arsenal manager faces a frustrating legacy.

Sport is obviously not all about winning, but it is about justified hope. That ­distinction has provided, until recently, a serious defence of Arsène Wenger’s Act II – the losing part. Arsenal haven’t won anything big for 13 years. But they have been close enough (and this is a personal view) to sustain the experience of investing emotionally in the story. Hope turning to disappointment is fine. It’s when the hope goes, that’s the problem.

Defeat takes many forms. In both 2010 and 2011, Arsenal lost over two legs to Barcelona in the Champions League. Yet these were rich and rewarding sporting experiences. In the two London fixtures of those ties, Arsenal drew 2-2 and won 2-1 against the most dazzling team in the world. Those nights reinvigorated my pride in sport. The Emirates Stadium had the best show in town. Defeat, when it arrived in Barcelona, was softened by gratitude. We’d been entertained, more than entertained.

Arsenal’s 5-1 surrender to Bayern Munich on 15 February was very different. In this capitulation by instalments, the fascination was macabre rather than dramatic. Having long given up on discerning signs of life, we began the post-mortem mid-match. As we pored over the entrails, the curiosity lay in the extent of the malady that had brought down the body. The same question, over and over: how could such an intelligent, deep-thinking manager preside over a hollowed-out team? How could failings so obvious to outsiders, the absence of steel and resilience, evade the judgement of the boss?

There is a saying in rugby union that forwards (the hard men) determine who wins, and the backs (the glamour boys) decide by how much. Here is a footballing equivalent: midfielders define matches, attacking players adorn them and defenders get the blame. Yet Arsenal’s players as good as vacated the midfield. It is hard to judge how well Bayern’s playmakers performed because they were operating in a vacuum; it looked like a morale-boosting training-ground drill, free from the annoying presence of opponents.

I have always been suspicious of the ­default English critique which posits that mentally fragile teams can be turned around by licensed on-field violence – a good kicking, basically. Sporting “character” takes many forms; physical assertiveness is only one dimension.

Still, it remains baffling, Wenger’s blind spot. He indulges artistry, especially the mercurial Mesut Özil, beyond the point where it serves the player. Yet he won’t protect the magicians by surrounding them with effective but down-to-earth talents. It has become a diet of collapsing soufflés.

What held back Wenger from buying the linchpin midfielder he has lacked for many years? Money is only part of the explanation. All added up, Arsenal do spend: their collective wage bill is the fourth-highest in the League. But Wenger has always been reluctant to lavish cash on a single star player, let alone a steely one. Rather two nice players than one great one.

The power of habit has become debilitating. Like a wealthy but conservative shopper who keeps going back to the same clothes shop, Wenger habituates the same strata of the transfer market. When he can’t get what he needs, he’s happy to come back home with something he’s already got, ­usually an elegant midfielder, tidy passer, gets bounced in big games, prone to going missing. Another button-down blue shirt for a drawer that is well stuffed.

It is almost universally accepted that, as a business, Arsenal are England’s leading club. Where their rivals rely on bailouts from oligarchs or highly leveraged debt, Arsenal took tough choices early and now appear financially secure – helped by their manager’s ability to engineer qualification for the Champions League every season while avoiding excessive transfer costs. Does that count for anything?

After the financial crisis, I had a revealing conversation with the owner of a private bank that had sailed through the turmoil. Being cautious and Swiss, he explained, he had always kept more capital reserves than the norm. As a result, the bank had made less money in boom years. “If I’d been a normal chief executive, I’d have been fired by the board,” he said. Instead, when the economic winds turned, he was much better placed than more bullish rivals. As a competitive strategy, his winning hand was only laid bare by the arrival of harder times.

In football, however, the crash never came. We all wrote that football’s insane spending couldn’t go on but the pace has only quickened. Even the Premier League’s bosses confessed to being surprised by the last extravagant round of television deals – the cash that eventually flows into the hands of managers and then the pockets of players and their agents.

By refusing to splash out on the players he needed, whatever the cost, Wenger was hedged for a downturn that never arrived.

What an irony it would be if football’s bust comes after he has departed. Imagine the scenario. The oligarchs move on, finding fresh ways of achieving fame, respectability and the protection achieved by entering the English establishment. The clubs loaded with debt are forced to cut their spending. Arsenal, benefiting from their solid business model, sail into an outright lead, mopping up star talent and trophies all round.

It’s often said that Wenger – early to invest in data analytics and worldwide scouts; a pioneer of player fitness and lifestyle – was overtaken by imitators. There is a second dimension to the question of time and circumstance. He helped to create and build Arsenal’s off-field robustness, even though football’s crazy economics haven’t yet proved its underlying value.

If the wind turns, Arsène Wenger may face a frustrating legacy: yesterday’s man and yet twice ahead of his time. 

Ed Smith is a journalist and author, most recently of Luck. He is a former professional cricketer and played for both Middlesex and England.

This article first appeared in the 24 February 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The world after Brexit