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Nissan Turning Nismo into Mainstream Performance Brand

by on Nov.29, 2012

The Nissan Juke Nismo concept reveals the red mirror caps likely to become a signature of the performance sub-brand.

Nissan plans to transform its Nismo subsidiary into a new, mainstream performance brand-within-a-brand, loosely modeled on the likes of the Mercedes-Benz sub-brand AMG, has learned.

Unlike some previous Japanese efforts to create sporty sub-brands, every model to wear the Nismo badge will get a measurable bump in performance, more sporty suspension tuning and distinctive exterior and interior design modifications, according to a senior Nissan executive.

The new operations will launch next year with the introduction of the new Nissan Juke Nismo. Other models will quickly follow. Meanwhile, Nissan will increase Nismo’s presence in various motorsports programs to enhance its visibility.

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“We saw an opportunity,” Nissan global marketing chief Simon Sproule explained during  an exclusive interview.  “No Japanese company has exploited its performance heritage successfully,” he added, including Nissan’s luxury arm, Infiniti.

The upscale marque has tried to develop a niche of its own with IPL, short for Infiniti Performance Line, but what qualifies has been vague, in some cases meaning just subtle design enhancements, with other products involving specific performance tweaks.

The same has happened at Lexus, which has no consistent policy for its F-Sport designation. And mainstream sibling Toyota has similarly failed to pull together a distinct performance sub-brand.

While Chrysler has been beefing up its SRT performance marque, Ford has bounced around with such designations as SVO and SVT and, more recently, models designated ST – including a version of the next-generation Ford Festiva due out a year from now.

About the only truly significant – and consistent – performance lines are German, including Mercedes’ AMG line and BMW’s M. The new Nissan Nismo, however, would target the automotive mainstream rather than the market’s most elite luxury buyers, stressed marketing executive Sproule.

“We’re now looking at a range of large-volume vehicles,” he said, “and Juke will be the first – the first of many.”

Nismo was launched in September 1984, its name a shorthand reference to Nissan Motorsport International Limited.  While a small number of vehicles were built for road use, the original focus was on sports car racing, including Japan’s Formula 3 series.

Nissan is again ramping up its involvement in race track programs – such as the LMPs series and Japan’s Super GT —  in an effort to build awareness for the Nismo name, though that may, ultimately, depend on the products the maker brings to market.

There will be some basic requirements for any product that wears the Nismo badge, Sproule stressed, noting “It has to be visually different, inside and out, deliver at least 10% more power and a different ride and handling” feel than the standard issue vehicle.

Styling changes could include a revised grille and front fascia, Sproule said, with a red mirror cap likely to be one of the brand’s signature styling cues.

There will be “various flavors,” he added, which suggests there could be different Nismo variants off a single platform.

Nissan gave a hint of what it has in store with a concept version of the Juke crossover that the maker revealed at the Le Mans race course two years ago.

The first of the new Nismo-badged models will debut in Europe during the first quarter of 2013. The new Nissan Nismo Juke is expected to reach U.S. showrooms during the second or third quarter of the New Year. There will be a price premium but exactly how much that will be has yet to be determined.


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