There is a lot of buzz around the 2023 Nissan Z that goes on sale in the U.S. next spring. Besides the good news that an iconic sports car nameplate isn’t dying, we have even better news: If hype and demand for the new Z stay strong, this seventh generation model won’t be the last, says Nissan chief operating officer Ashwani Gupta.
Gupta was in the U.S. for the recent Nissan Z unveiling and took time to talk to MotorTrend. During our chat, he did not rule out an eighth generation of the Z car. As long as there is demand, Gupta notes, “[Nissan] will definitely continue with it.”
The Z is more than a car to Nissan. It represents Nissan’s culture and brings motivation, engagement and confidence to the brand and its halo is cast over the company, suppliers, dealers as well as customers.
It is because of this unique mandate that the 2023 model drops letters from its name and is simply known as the Nissan Z. “This for us is not a simple car, this is our culture,” Gupta says. It is a culture built around the history of the Z and stripping the new model to the letter denotes the authenticity of its heritage, as manifested in the new model.
While the Z is a nod to Nissan’s past, electrification is its future.
Electric Nissan Frontier?
What about an electric pickup? Ford has the 2022 F-150 Lightning, General Motors has the 2022 GMC Hummer EV, and Ram is working on an electric truck. Rivian is in the final stages of preparation to launch the 2022 Rivian R1T electric pickup.
Don’t expect Nissan to join the fray anytime soon. Nissan’s core truck is the Frontier; the full-size Nissan Titan is a complementary product, Gupta says. The Japanese automaker is getting ready to launch the next-generation 2022 Nissan Frontier midsize pickup truck. Gupta says customers were clear that they wanted the Frontier to remain powered by an internal combustion engine. “As we move forward, we will listen to them carefully and we’ll work on it.” It would not be hard to do; Nissan has electric vehicle technology in the Leaf and upcoming Nissan Ariya electric SUV as well as the e-Power hybrid systems. “The question is when the customer is asking for it and when the market is prepared for it.”
Electrification is part of the Nissan Next global restructuring plan that extends through March 2024. Gupta is leading the turnaround plan that plots the automaker’s corporate future after decades of leadership by Carlos Ghosn, who is now a fugitive and faces charges of financial malfeasance in Japan. Nissan needed to break from a cycle of high inventories and offering big customer incentives to clear lots, while reducing fixed costs. Cost reduction has already exceeded targets; fixed costs have been cut by $3 billion, he says.
The second pillar of the plan is to focus on core products and markets to improve the quality of sales; to rely less on fleets and discounts and create retail demand resulting in higher transaction prices and residual value. Nissan has a mix of strong new products—70 percent of the lineup is being renewed in 2021—and is exercising more discipline to keep inventories and incentives on current models in check. The U.S. has 10 new or redesigned vehicles through early 2022, says Gupta who is chairman of the board that oversees North America.
While the quality of new products has improved—vehicles like the Nissan Sentra have significantly better interiors than before, for example—Gupta knows it can take 18 months for public perception to catch up with reality. But he thinks the brand has credibility globally and consumers will see the difference and reward Nissan’s efforts in 2022.
Nissan’s Electric Vehicle Strategy
The third pillar of the Nissan Next plan is investing in electric, connected and autonomous vehicle technology. Gupta says this part of the plan is also on track. Nissan’s approach to electric vehicles is to provide greater driving excitement at a better price point and lower cost of ownership while contributing to a cleaner climate. To that end, all new vehicles will be offered with electrified options in the 2030s and 40 percent will be full battery-electric models.
The 2022 Nissan Ariya electric crossover will be available in the U.S. in the first half of 2022 after a number of delays. Launch plans were buffeted by plant closures during the pandemic and then the semiconductor chip shortage. The shortage points to the need to be able to better forecast and collaborate with all levels of the supply chain, but not necessarily make semiconductors themselves, Gupta says.
Conversely, batteries are integral to future success and Nissan is partnered with Envision AESC of China to build gigafactories in Europe and Japan. Nissan has a small battery plant in Tennessee and will study whether it needs greater capacity in the future, Gupta says.
When Mitsubishi joined the Nissan-Renault Alliance in 2016, the three automakers initially continued to pursue their respective electrified strategies: Nissan had the battery electric technology in the Leaf while Mitsubishi brought plug-in hybrid technology to the Alliance. That has changed. There is greater sharing today and electrification is providing more opportunities to strengthen the Alliance, Gupta says.
The Alliance’s new CMF-EV platform will allow all three automakers to introduce new battery-powered vehicles more competitively. A common platform and battery provide economies of scale while the ability to build vehicles in any number of plants adds to flexibility and manufacturing efficiency. For example, in Europe, the Nissan Ariya and Renault Megane use the same platform and electric architecture. And the next Mitsubishi Outlander Plug-in Hybrid shares underpinnings with the Nissan Rogue.
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