The cars we loved.
It’s been a few months since the announcement was officially made about the return of the beloved Datsun brand by Nissan. Unfortunately, for all those people in more evolved markets who grew up with B210s, 200SXs and King Cab pickups, the brand won’t be coming to your neck of the woods anytime soon. In the summer of 2013, Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn announced the return of the brand in India, where he introduced a pair of small cars called GO and GO+. The plus part amounted to the extra cargo space of a station wagon.
The name was inspired by the first Datsun, called the DAT-GO, launched in 1930s Japan. Japan was then like parts of India are now: a rapidly developing market. This is also the key behind the Datsun brands return strategy. The strong focus on developing markets like India will take Datsun back to its roots as a builder of dependable low-cost cars. Everyday performance was one of the surprising perks of owning a Datsun from the past, but with these new Datsuns. The company just wants to just get itself into the door of a market that is projected to reach 4 million vehicle sales by 2015. It is hoped that in time some of those buyers will move up the Nissan chain and eventually Infiniti.
The GO pair is a modest bunch by any standards and nearly third world by comparison to any overstuffed Infiniti. A 1.2 liter engine is the only choice and its mated to a 5 speed manual transmission. The Nissan Micra was the source for much of the GOs mechanical components as well as its interior. The GO and Micra share a version of Nissan’s 68 hp straight 3 cylinder engine. In America the Versa is the least expensive Nissan and cost about $3,000 more than the GO.
The GO’s small engine seems well suited for the chaotic conditions its likely to encounter in the crowded streets of Indian, Russian and Indonesian urban areas. Datsun’s website does not even give detailed specs, as if the numbers would be mysterious to markets more accustomed to bikes, scooters and horse driven carts.
Like the Versa, the GO has a longer wheelbase and wide stance to make the most of its interior space. The supplier chain is able to tailor the GO to local markets in an attempt to give Datsun some flexibility to quickly respond to changing market conditions. While in Western nations, some factions are contemplating a move away from personal transport, in developing markets there are no such illusions, many aspire to own a car (even an old one). As the West grows fatter and older, its smallest cars are trying to keep up by growing more lush and physically more accommodating. It’s nice to know that basic cars are still being built and sold somewhere, although the spirit of Datsun seems to have no place in our bloated touchscreen satnav marketplace.
Current small car trends in Europe and America have intensified competition to the point that power, economy and a touch of luxury are becoming more commonplace. This up-squeeze raises the tide of the market so that even traditionally lower cost brands like Hyundai and Kia have become more polished. The GO aims to counter that trend by staying close to Datsun’s modest roots.
The Datsun brand could thrive in America where it has warm nostalgic associations with Baby Boomers and Gen X motorists. Nissans on the lower end of the line are currently seen as boring appliances not at all the driver’s cars typical of the Sentra SER or 240SX of just a few years ago were. While the Versa Note is one of the cheapest new cars you can buy in America, it has none of the thrills of other low-cost cars like the Chevy Sonic. Despite the low price of the Versa, there is still room at the bottom for a stripped down fun to drive car with a Datsun name attached to it. If the cars were well designed, Nissan might be surprised at how willing the public might be to forgo gadgets like touchscreens and talking entertainment consoles.
While Datsun’s current emphasis is on value at a low-cost, the brand is equally known worldwide for its simple fun to drive cars. Hopefully Nissan will expand Datsun’s reach to markets where the push for upscale small cars has left a void that traditionally gets filled in the used car market. At the 2013 Tokyo Motor Show, Nissan showed a pair of concepts that recalled the spirit of the 501 and NX Skylines from the 70’s. Called IDx Freeflow and IDx Nismo, the coups were popular with showgoers and hinted to a low-cost coupe with more handling prowess than straight line power. This would be a perfect car to launch the Datsun brand in America and Europe.