More than two decades after the last Datsun-branded car passed into history, the Nissan-owned marque gets set to be reborn as a frugal, value-for-money offering yet with substance, style and innovation packed in, says Adil Jal Darukhanawala who was one of a very exclusive band to get to see the all new Datsun hatch poised for a world reveal in Delhi this month
It is nothing but an understanding of the Japanese language to fathom that DAT means “lightning-fast” and the rejuvenated Datsun brand is going about doing this in exactly the very same way! Given the long lead times associated from concept to design to prototyping to production engineering before the onset of series production, Datsun, the third brand in the Nissan portfolio (after Infiniti and Nissan of course) is now aiming to show off its price-effective contender for the new wave of emerging markets.
The image you see here is the first of the two initial products Datsun will unleash on the Indian market beginning early 2014 while variations on the same theme will also be made and sold in Indonesia, Russia and South Africa. What is so vital for India though is the fact that unlike any other recent car maker who has shied away from the very low end of the market where the cost effective Maruti Suzukis rule the roost, here is a car maker going exactly for this critical segment and in doing so has come up with a car that is bigger and larger than the norm yet seems value packed which is the mantra now beginning to get ingrained into the psyche of both seller and buyer in the country.
While the official design renderings have been revealed here for the first time, we were privy to the actual finished prototype at Nissan’s design centre in Japan a fortnight ago and I can state quite frankly that for a car which targets the likes of the Maruti Suzuki A-Star, Wagon R, Hyundai i10 and a few others, it makes its virtue apparent on first sight: it is well styled with a host of finely sculpted lines from front to rear, muscular at the right places while exuding a svelte aura all around. Design as a differentiator has been well wrought into the first Datsun but then what is also apparent is that it has a very long wheelbase with all four wheels at the absolute corners with very little front and rear overhangs.
This translates into a very large cabin with occupant space being given absolute significance and this would be yet another differentiator for the new brand. Datsun’s small but very experienced product team has thought long and hard to be a meaningful clutter-breaker in the small car segment and obviously has realized the first approach to the segment it intends to cater would best be served by the “more car, per car” maxim once espoused by the original Tata Indica.
And that brings us to the intended segment which is all about first time buyers predominantly and also buyers who might have just one car in their life, not just in India but also in the other countries’ mentioned above. As such the objective to build and offer a robust, decently specced car with ample power while yet not scrounging on the frugality aspect.
This frugality aspect is not just about the cost of purchase but about the cost of ownership explained Vincent Cobee, boss of Datsun. He stressed that the Datsun brand had been created to make a new breed of automobile for an emerging and ambitious middle class in high growth markets where operational costs were being given the same priority as cost of acquisition.
The first new Datsun for decades will be the hatchback you see in the rendering and will be powered by the very same 1.2-litre petrol engine as that does duty in the present day Nissan Micra. However, this engine would come in a state of tune, which would be different from that seen in the Micra, the onus being more on strong driveability and torque to deliver not just class leading fuel efficiency but also the thrust to carry the full complement of six passengers.
If you are surprised by what I meant when I used the words “six passengers” I didn’t mean for Datsun to cram in more in the typical Indian manner but to have six occupants being seated in pure comfort by design. The new Datsun hatchback will have a front bench seat, split down the middle with individual adjustability fore and aft but with the means to provide genuine occupant space for three up front!
To do that the gear shifter as well as the parking brake levers have both been moved to the dashboard, freeing up logical space that the centre console normally devours. While Datsun were cagey about informing us of the interior innovation they spoke about, the prototype had its interior completely shrouded when the car was presented to us but there were enough tell tale signs to indicate what I have mentioned above.
And given that there is an even smaller Nissan mini built in Japan to that country’s unique kei-jidosha class regulations, sporting such a seating arrangement, it doesn’t require rocket science to understand why this sort of a seating configuration makes sense, for the commoners’ class of car in India.
While the world reveal of the first Datsun in decades will happen in Delhi on July 15, the car will only roll out from the Renault-Nissan Alliance facility in Chennai from the first quarter of calendar 2014. Cobee and his team are talking up not just a great value package for entry level and first time buyers and this includes a terrific price tag from day one, which would help the brand to offer a substantial automobile that is not the norm in the class at present.
We think the pricing could be in the region of just around the Rs 3.0-lakh mark and while there is no talk of a diesel-engined offering just yet, I think that if Datsun is adventurous enough to slot in an oil burner for around Rs. 3.5 to 3.7 lakhs then it would truly shake-up the small car class.