The reintroduction of the Datsun name as a budget brand for Nissan is an obvious strategy to adopt. Skoda, Kia and Hyundai have moved upmarket, leaving a gap to fill, and there’s a ready customer base in the emerging markets of Asia and South America. Renault, Nissan’s alliance partner, already has a thriving budget brand in Dacia, the Romanian manufacturer it bought in 1999, and it has a stake in Lada, which is planning to relaunch.
Nissan has not had to buy a brand or create a new one as it’s had the Datsun badge on the shelf since it dropped the name almost 30 years ago. It creates a budget offering without distressing Nissan brand’s electric vehicle and performance values, or the credibility of the Infiniti premium brand.
It also makes sense to launch Datsun in India. The country has taken a back seat to China’s huge growth in car ownership but it has huge potential and is underinvested by the major carmakers. Datsun’s launch model, the Go, is an unremarkable Nissan Micra makeover but crucially it’s an entry-level mini car for the newly-moneyed masses in India, where car ownership is 25% of that in China and less than 2% of the US population.
So far so rational. Back in its last incarnation, however, Datsun had a somewhat less rational side in spite of building its success on cheap, reliable runarounds. As well as giving several of its models 1970’s sitcom names like Gloria and Cedric, it suddenly introduced the 240Z sports car, transforming the brand – and then dropped the brand name to start again as Nissan. Bizarre.
But not as bizarre as using Salvador Dali in the advertising for the 180B/610 Wagon family car, even commissioning original artwork. The car he got free as part of his payment now sits among surrealist sculptures and works of art in the gardens of Dali’s castle in Pubol, Spain (you can see it on my Twitter account @markcarbery). Inside are a Boss Hogg-era Cadillac Deville and a horse-drawn carriage. An interesting garage. If he were alive today, I’d like to think he’d drive a Ssangyong Rodius.
With India as the catalyst for the brand, perhaps Datsun will ask Anish Kapoor to endorse the Go.
Now that would be surreal.