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Datsun plans larger global footprint

MURALI GOPALAN | Updated on March 10, 2018 Published on February 19, 2015

Going steady: Vincent Cobee, Global Head of Datsun, with the Go+ in Mumbai. SHASHI ASHIWAL

New markets could include Latin America and ASEAN

Vincent Cobee has a quick question. “Which is Datsun’s fifth market?” he asks while helpfully adding that India, Indonesia, Russia and South Africa are the other four.

“It is Nepal,” he proclaims triumphantly where Nissan Motor Company recently launched the no-frills brand for emerging markets. According to Cobee, who is Nissan’s Corporate Vice-President and Head of Datsun, the car is already a “big success” in this Himalayan region as it is modern and reliable with a “fantastic engine” to boot.

Easy expansion

Nepal, in turn, could be the beginning of a bigger global script for brand Datsun which was initially earmarked for four countries. “Going forward, we could look at Sri Lanka and other neighbours for easy expansion,” Cobee says.

Russia, likewise, could expand its product offering to countries in the CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) region. South Africa, another important market, has the potential to grow within parts of the vast continent. Cobee believes Latin America also translates into an interesting opportunity for Datsun though Nissan has not taken a decision yet. Logically, he adds, the company can service the African and Middle-East markets from India while ASEAN, with its free trade pacts, could operate more comfortably out of Indonesia as the manufacturing base.

While all this is still some years away, there are some immediate concerns that need to be addressed. It is nearly a year since Datsun was launched in India last March but it is still to make a strong customer connect. Is this difficult to digest for Cobee, who has literally breathed Datsun for five years?

Slow and steady

On the contrary, he grins good-naturedly and reminds you that the journey has only just begun. “Datsun has virtually occupied the last five years of my life from the drawing board to hardcore reality. We have been dreaming, shaping and developing the brand,” he says.

Never mind if sales are little to write home about in this part of the world. Cobee insists the intention behind launching Datsun continues to be relevant. “It is fundamentally to convey that in a high growth emerging market, you deserve better than what you have got in the past. You deserve a better price, better ownership, proper service and attractive financing options,” he says. This holds good not only for India but Russia, Indonesia and South Africa which are the key growth levers for Datsun. “The one thing you do not deserve is a car made 20 years ago for another country and reindustrialised in your market,” Cobee adds for good measure.

The key, according to him, is to reach out with humility to customers and tell them that Datsun is the car which will assure a satisfying ownership experience. This, in turn, would include parameters like price, reliability, fuel efficiency etc.

Cobee insists that Nissan has a satisfied customer base in India (and other markets) though it is going through its ups and downs in terms of numbers. “This is because it is a tough road. The issue is not brand or product but the speed at which we can convince customers and cover the country geographically is difficult because of the diversity and competition,” he explains.

Tough market

Clearly, all this will take time especially in a market where there are tough rivals to contend with, a list comprising Maruti, Hyundai, Honda and, of late, a resurgent Tata Motors. Cobee says the Datsun is on a natural growth trajectory with launches on schedule.

“We will achieve the volumes but this could go a little beyond the targeted date of 2016 (when Nissan hoped for 10 per cent market share). This is because of the time taken to cover the markets, getting the right teams, right positioning and convincing customers. We are in an industry which is extremely competitive,” he says.

Interestingly, the Datsun brand in Russia (the on-Do sedan) is a completely different product offering. As a brand, Cobee elaborates, it has the “same ambition” with the target customer being pretty similar to India in terms of values. The platform, though, is different as is the body type, engine/vehicle size which must adapt to different temperatures, customer use and speed. Russia also offers Nissan access to AvtoVAZ which it owns (as part of the Renault-Nissan alliance) and, therefore, extends obvious benefits of cost-competitiveness. Such spurts are expected to happen across its markets this year too but Cobee would rather see the brand stabilise itself and grow from there. India clearly would be top priority by virtue of its sheer size and Nissan has its work cut out in the coming months.

Published on February 19, 2015
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