start your engines
Posted by Dale Buss on November 9, 2010 10:00 AM
The picture is starting to come into focus for those trying to figure out where Nissan’s brand stewards are trying to take the company in the U.S. market.
The first clue was the carmaker’s launch last year of Cube, a quirkily designed small car that goes one better on the box styling of Toyota’s Scion brand – with touches like an asymmetrical wraparound rear-window treatment. This stroke reminded auto buyers of Nissan’s design-first mentality which previously had been manifested mainly in the streamlined shapes of models by Nissan’s luxury arm, Infiniti, such as the FX crossover.
The second sign of the new brand direction was the company’s decision to introduce Nissan Leaf, which will become the first all-electric vehicle to hit the mainstream U.S. market when it is introduced in a few weeks. Even more bold than its design is the unapologetic stance the company is taking on the fact that Leaf will require several hours of plug-in time to run – and even then it will only go as far as 100 miles before the batteries are depleted.
What does it all add up to? Nissan is attempting to bring these developments, and more, together under its new brand rubric, “Innovation.” Remnants remain of Nissan’s long-time “Shift” positioning in some of its advertising, but the terrain the company is staking out is all about establishing Nissan as the most innovative OEM in the U.S. car business.
Can they own it? Toyota has long owned quality, though its spate of recalls has dented and dinged that shine. Honda has positioned itself as the home of engineering expertise and fuel economy. Nissan’s brand identity always has been a bit fuzzier in the U.S. market.
“Customers didn’t know what Nissan stood for,” Nissan Americas Chairman Carlos Tavares said last week at the Automotive Press Association meeting in Detroit, according to Edmunds.com’s AutoObserver.com. Leaf, he said, “will be the flag” for a Nissan brand deeply committed to promoting innovation. But it’s a fine line between innovation and a risky bet. If green-weary consumers don’t commit to the new model of electric car, then something else better be cued up on the assembly line.
“Innovation” will need to prove more than a slogan for Nissan to wear it as a brand mantle. Leaf must be the first Nissan idea to float down from the brand’s tree of knowledge, not the last.