| PARIS, Sept 29
PARIS, Sept 29 Nissan Motor Co Ltd
unveiled a larger, plusher French-built update to its Micra
subcompact on Thursday, hoping to win back ground lost by the
current model in an ill-judged slide downmarket that alienated
European car buyers.
The Japanese carmaker aims to follow up on the success of
its larger Qashqai SUV and deepen manufacturing integration with
alliance partner Renault SA, which is assembling the
new Micra at its Flins plant west of Paris.
Pricing, which was not disclosed in the launch statement, is
expected to be well above the outgoing Micra, which starts at
12,000 euros ($13,460).
The new model "shows our intent to compete right at the top
of Europe's (subcompact) market", said Nissan Chief Executive
Carlos Ghosn, who also heads parent Renault.
With the existing model, launched in 2010, a global design
that achieved poor European sales, production was moved to India
from Nissan's Sunderland plant, whose third-generation Micra had
scored 177,000 deliveries in 2003 - the best year on record.
"They lost it all with the last generation and went
completely the wrong way," IHS Automotive analyst Ian Fletcher
said. Instead of tackling semi-premium rivals like the Fiat 500,
the Micra found itself compared - often unfavourably - with
aggressively priced Hyundais.
But the new Micra, announced at the Paris auto show, leaves
past mistakes in the rearview mirror.
Besides the larger size and higher quality interior, it adds
a six-speaker sound system, automatic emergency braking with
pedestrian recognition and driving comfort technology previously
unavailable in models below the Qashqai.
Assembly in France serves an additional purpose for CEO
Ghosn: advancing the painstaking integration of the 17-year-old
It also satisfies production pledges offered in return for
Renault union acquiescence to headcount reductions, wage
restraint and flexible hours. Another round of labour talks
began this month, aiming to conclude a new pact by year end.
The Micra's competition is fiercer now than in its 2003
heyday, when it claimed 4 percent of European registrations in
its size category and 7 percent in the UK, its strongest market.
Sales of the new car will peak at around 103,000 vehicles in
2018 for a 3.3 percent European market share, according to IHS
Contemporary challengers include PSA's revamped
Citroen C3 and the Kia Rio, both making their debuts in Paris.
A weaker pound since Britain's June referendum vote to leave
the European Union poses an additional profit and pricing
challenge for imported vehicles.
But Nissan's large-scale UK production of other models -
including the Qashqai - could give the Micra an edge over
rivals, analysts say.
"Nissan overall is less exposed because its UK production
offers a bit of a natural hedge," said Stuart Pearson of Exane
BNP Paribas. "It can use the relative gains on its UK-built cars
to help certain others."
($1 = 0.8916 euro)
(Editing by Matthew Lewis)