Last week, Nissan – as part of the Renault Nissan Mitsubishi Alliance – announced an ambitious plan to invest 23 billion Euros in new products, starting with the all-electric Nissan Ariya crossover and compact Nissan Micra, as well as a commitment to developing a new type of solid-state battery that could rocket the company back to the forefront of the electric car market in a way that it hasn’t been since the original Nissan LEAF went into production all the way back in 2010. It was a bold statement of intent, but one that begs the question: Can Nissan pull it off?
FIRST YOU HAVE TO CARE
Our own Matt Posky called last year’s Nissan Ambition 2030 presentation “an hour of wishful thinking“, rightly pointing out that the company had closed out 2020 with a raft of layoffs and billions in losses, that, if a bevy of poorly-conceived, hastily rendered CGI concepts was the best Nissan could hope for, it was well and truly lost.
This, of course, came less than six months after Corey Lewis’ op-ed piece titled “Nissan Definitely No Longer Cares About the Maxima” wherein he exposed a number of shocking build quality issues that might not upset the Tesla crowd, but which certainly didn’t seem like the result of a company that cared about its product … but Nissan used to care.
Nissan used to care so much about its product, in fact, that it once did something that seems unthinkable in today’s modular-construction, Ultium electric-skateboard-platform EV age. And what made that “something” all the more astonishing was that they didn’t do this for the six-figure GT-R or some 370Z halo car – they did it for the lowly Nissan Cube.
What is that something? They built an entirely new body for RHD and LHD markets.
That’s right. Where most companies would simply move the car’s controls from one side to the other and do whatever they could to mask the fact that they did so as inexpensively as possible, the once-upon-a-time Nissan of yore took its most famously asymmetrical subcompact – the Nissan Cube – and built a complete mirror-image of the “home market” RHD model for LHD markets. This is a massive commitment to two sets of stampings, two sets of expensive window shapes, two sets of stuff I probably haven’t even considered, and it was all done for what? To eliminate a blind spot?
Can you imagine the levels of giving a fuck you would have to have to sit in a board room and argue that you should spend millions of dollars in tooling and certification and assembly line re-jiggering because someone, somewhere else, might have a bit of a blind spot when they look over their right shoulder?
I don’t know know, but I just know that arguing for something like this would be a career-ender at GM or Chrysler. Nissan, however, didn’t just listen to that unnamed engineer (it had to be an engineer), they went ahead and did it. They built an entire mirror-image of their home market Cube, and they did it so quietly that I bet more than a few of you reading these words never even realized they’d done it.
WHEN NISSAN CARES AGAIN
As an ex-Switzer guy and well-documented Nissan GT-R/Infiniti G20t fan, myself, Corey’s piece stuck with me. I remember eagerly awaiting the then-new Maxima back in 2015 and didn’t think twice about the car’s nearly $40,000 price tag.
“It’s a Maxima,” I thought. “It’s the four-door sports car, after all. Of course it’s expensive.”
Nissans were always well-built cars. Until they weren’t, that is – and it seems as if, while I was away selling Volvos and Harleys, Nissan cars became better known for CVT failures and weird noises than for being athletic, sporty cars. The Japanese counterpart of BMW that I’d grown up with just wasn’t there anymore. But perhaps that was a question of leadership.
Nissan under Carlos Ghosn was once again profitable, but only in the aftermath of a radical overhaul that earned the CEO a nickname that stuck with his colleagues at Renault: Le Cost Killer.
It’s hard to imagine someone called “Le Cost Killer” would go for something like the mirror-image Cube (even though Ghosn was at the helm when the Cube launched, I’d argue there’s a nonzero chance the thing was done quietly precisely for that reason), but Carlos’ exit from Nissan was so catastrophic that the man had to get wheeled out to an airplane in a suitcase and flown to Beirut in an attempt to avoid prison and a $90 million payout to Nissan. Now that he’s gone, who is in charge?
Nissan’s current CEO is Makoto Uchida, a man who graduated with a degree in theology from Doshisha University – and, if you can’t quite remember the last time a theologian took the top spot at a car company, you’re not alone. But, since the only thing Nissan fans can reasonably do is wait and pray that the next generation of electric Nissans born of the Renault Nissan Mitsubishi Alliance is more like the Cube and less like the most recent Maxima, he might just have the right background after all.
That’s my take, anyway – what’s yours? You’re the Best and Brightest, and if there’s anyone out there who can speak to Nissan’s future chances of redemption, I couldn’t tell you who they are.
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