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For those of a slightly younger status, it will mean boring reliable boxes of the early 1980s, before the Nissan brand superseded Datsun in 1983.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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Justin Trudeau points the way forward for European politics

Is the charismatic Canadian Prime Minister modelling the party of the future?

Six months after Canadian election day, Justin Trudeau’s Liberal party continues to bask in the glow of victory. With 44 per cent of support in the polls, the Liberals are the most popular party amongst every single demographic – men and women, young and old, and people of all educational backgrounds. 

While most European mainstream parties only dream of such approval, this is actually a small dip for the Liberals. They were enjoying almost 50 per cent support in the polls up until budget day on 21 March. Even after announcing $29.4 billion in deficit spending, Canadians overall viewed the budget favourably – only 34 per cent said they would vote to defeat it.

Progressives around the world are suddenly intrigued by Canadian politics. Why is Justin Trudeau so successful?

Of course it helps that the new Prime Minister is young, handsome and loves pandas (who doesn’t?) But it’s also true that he was leader of the Liberals for a year and half before the election. He brought with him an initial surge in support for the party. But he also oversaw its steady decline in the lead up to last year’s election – leadership is important, but clearly it isn’t the only factor behind the Liberals’ success today.

Context matters

As disappointing as it is for Europeans seeking to unpack Canadian secrets, the truth is that a large part of the Liberals’ success was also down to the former Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s extreme unpopularity by election time.

Throughout almost ten years in power, Harper shifted Canada markedly to the right. His Conservative government did not just alter policies; it started changing the rules of the democratic game. While centre-right governments in Europe may be implementing policies that progressives dislike, they are nonetheless operating within the constraints of democratic systems (for the most part; Hungary and Poland are exceptions).

Which is why the first weeks of the election campaign were dominated by an ‘Anybody But Harper’ sentiment, benefitting both the Liberals and the left-wing New Democratic Party (NDP). The NDP was even leading the polls for a while, inviting pundits to consider the possibility of a hung parliament.

But eight days before election day, the Liberals began to pull ahead.

The most important reason – and why they continue to be so popular today – is that they were able to own the mantle of ‘change’. They were the only party to promise running a (small) deficit and invest heavily in infrastructure. Notably absent was abstract discourse about tackling inequality. Trudeau’s plan was about fairness for the middle class, promoting social justice and economic growth.

Democratic reform was also a core feature of the Liberal campaign, which the party has maintained in government – Trudeau appointed a new Minister of Democratic Institutions and promised a change in the voting system before the next election.

The change has also been in style, however. Justin Trudeau is rebranding Canada as an open, progressive, plural society. Even though this was Canada’s reputation pre-Harper, it is not as simple as turning back the clock.

In a world increasingly taken by populist rhetoric on immigration – not just by politicians like Donald Trump, Nigel Farage, Marine Le Pen and other right-wingers, but also increasingly by mainstream politicians of right and left – Justin Trudeau has been unashamedly proclaiming the benefits of living in a diverse, plural society. He repeatedly calls himself a feminist, in the hope that one day “it is met with a shrug” rather than a social media explosion. Live-streamed Global Town Halls are one part of a renewed openness with the media. Progressive politicians in Europe would do well to take note.

Questioning the role of political parties today

Another interesting development is that the Liberal party is implicitly questioning the point of parties today. It recently abolished fee-paying, card-carrying party members. While this has been met with some criticism regarding the party’s structure and integrity, with commentators worried that “it’s the equivalent of turning your party into one giant Facebook page: Click ‘Like’ and you’re in the club,” it seems this is the point.

Colin Horgan, one of Trudeau’s former speechwriters, explains that Facebook is “literally a treasure trove for political parties”. All kinds of information becomes available – for free; supporters become easier to contact.

It was something the Liberals were already hinting at two years ago when they introduced a ‘supporters’ category to make the party appear more open. Liberal president Anna Gainey also used the word “movement” to describe what the Liberals hope to be.

And yes, they are trying to win over millennials. Which proved to be a good strategy, as a new study shows that Canadians aged 18-25 were a key reason why the Liberals won a majority. Young voter turnout was up by 12 per cent from the last election in 2011; among this age group, 45 per cent voted for the Liberals.

Some interesting questions for European progressives to consider. Of course, some of the newer political parties in Europe have already been experimenting with looser membership structures and less hierarchical ways of engaging, like Podemos’ ‘circles’ in Spain and the Five Star Movement’s ‘liquid democracy’ in Italy.

The British centre-left may be hesitant after its recent fiasco. Labour opened up its leadership primary to ‘supporters’ and ended up with a polarising leader who is extremely popular amongst members, but unpopular amongst the British public. But it would be wrong to assume that the process was to blame.

The better comparison is perhaps to Emmanuel Macron, France’s young economy minister who recently launched his own movement ‘En Marche !’ Moving beyond the traditional party structure, he is attempting to unite ‘right’ and ‘left’ by inspiring French people with an optimistic vision of the future. Time will tell whether this works to engage people in the longer term, or at least until next year’s presidential election.

In any case, European parties could start by asking themselves: What kind of political parties are they? What is the point of them?

Most importantly: What do they want people to think is the point of them?

Ultimately, the Canadian Liberals’ model of success rests on three main pillars:

  1. They unambiguously promote and defend a progressive, open, plural vision of society.
  2. They have a coherent economic plan focused on social justice and economic growth which, most importantly, they are trusted to deliver.
  3. They understand that society has changed – people are more interconnected than ever, relationships are less hierarchical and networks exist online – and they are adapting a once rigid party structure into a looser, open movement to reflect that.

*And as a bonus, a young, charismatic leader doesn’t hurt either.

Claudia Chwalisz is a Senior Policy Researcher at Policy Network, a Crook Public Service Fellow at the University of Sheffield and author of The Populist Signal: Why Politics and Democracy Need to Change