Nissan product strategy chief shares how company will get back on track in Europe

Europe

The Nissan Juke helped to create the small crossover segment in Europe, but last year it fell out of the top 10 bestsellers in the fast-growing sector after volume fell 24 percent. The new-generation Juke will turn things around for the model and help lift the struggling brand, Nissan product strategy chief Ivan Espinosa told Automotive News Europe Managing Editor Douglas A. Bolduc.

Nissan’s European market share has fallen sharply with vehicle sales down by more than 20 percent. How will Nissan stop the free fall?

We are just launching the Juke, which means we are rejuvenating one of the our most important nameplates in Europe. It is the second pillar for the brand in Europe after the Qashqai. We invented this segment and now we are going to be the best [in the segment].

Last year the Juke ranked 13th in the small SUV sales. Why are you so bullish?

Because of its outstanding perceived quality inside, driving dynamics, and we are building on the strength of the product that we had before. That means a unique design and fun to drive attributes. We are still very relevant in the European market.

In Europe, Nissan is strong in SUVs and in EVs but the brand struggles elsewhere. What additional strength does the brand want to create?

One area is that we are bringing more electrification. This is not only EVs. It includes e-Power [Nissan’s hybrid drivetrain], which is a very strong part of Nissan Intelligent Mobility [a brand strategy that prioritizes the development of connectivity, electrification and autonomous driving]. We want to keep building on this.

What is the competitive advantage of e-Power?

It allows the customer to experience the complete EV-drive feel without being in an EV. It is a very different type of technology than exists in the market today. We are convinced this will help us.

The price premium for e-Power in Japan is equivalent to roughly 4,000 euros. What will the price premium be in Europe?

We can’t be specific but we will be very competitive because Nissan aims to democratize technology to make it accessible to our customers.

Qashqai sales were down 19 percent. Why has demand for your No. 1 model slowed?

The car is reaching the time when it should be refreshed and that is what we will do in the near future. We will bring all of the power of Nissan Intelligent Mobility into this nameplate.  You may have seen the concept we presented at the Geneva auto show [the IMq]. It was a concept associated with the Qashqai. We said we will bring e-Power into Europe and this is one of the solutions.

What are some of the lessons you have learned from the Leaf EV?

One of them is the hassle of charging. How easy or complicated this is has a big impact on the EV customer experience. It is not just about time. It is simple things such as location of the charger and even the weight of the cable. We have a lot of female Leaf drivers and in some cases the technologies that we use today are not so friendly for them. We have also learned many things about the battery technology and electric motor technology. All that is helping us to make our EV drive smoother.

How important is e-Power to help Nissan meet tougher emissions targets in Europe?

E-Power will be one of our core technologies not only in Europe but globally. While it will help us with compliance that is not its only purpose. The beauty of e-Power is that in those markets where the infrastructure is not ready or where customers don’t have access to electric vehicles, e-Power will allow them to experience EV-like driving.
Effectively it’s a motor-driven car because the combustion engine is only charging the battery. Therefore, the behavior is very close to an electric vehicle. With this we can get customers to experience of what it’s like to drive an EV.

Europe’s higher average speeds could hurt e-Power’s efficiency if the format used in Japan comes here, making it harder for the engine to recharge the battery. How will you overcome this problem?

The technology we are using in Japan is one interpretation of this concept. In that market you don’t need big motors to move the car. There are different set ups for the technology to overcome the issue you mention. This technology is at the core of what Nissan will deploy in the future. It is not only technology that we are developing for Japan and then exporting. It is a technology that we are developing each market.

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