IT may seem hard to believe now but there was a time, not so very long ago, when a ‘foreign car’ in the UK was probably a Renault or a Volkswagen. Most cars were British – foreign meant European.
Then in the early 1970s, when we all had big hair, silly trousers and spent half our lives at roadsides flinging insults and venom at broken-down Allegros and Marinas, we were invaded by the Japanese – and a motoring revolution began.
At the vanguard of change were busy, buzzy, bland little vehicle bearing the names Toyota or Datsun, and they devoured a huge chunk of the British car market thanks to outstanding marketing, reliability and hitherto unknown value for money.
While the British motor industry was dying due largely to toxic industrial relations, spectacular mismanagement, laughable build quality and non-existent customer aftercare, the Orientals were taking over the Western world – and names such as Datsun’s Sunny and Cherry changed the face of British motoring.
The giant Nissan corporation phased out the name Datsun more than 30 years ago but they are now reviving it as a badge for the launch of a new venture in which they are aiming squarely at the world’s emerging markets.
The Datsun Go will be the name for their new city car, which has just been unveiled in India. A no-frills, 1.2-litre hatchback, it is going on sale for £4,500 as a direct challenger to the Tata Nano, which sells for between £1,700 and £2,400, and it is targeting first-time buyers.
Nissan, which has been the company’s primary global name since 1981, is struggling in the face of weak markets in Europe and America so it makes sense to aim its marketing and manufacturing firepower at emerging economies with rapid growth potential.
The Go will be built in India and is based on the Nissan Micra, but with few of the bells and whistles that we have come to expect in Europe; one size fits all so production costs are pared right down. After India, Nissan are planning to take the Datsun into Russia, Indonesia and South Africa.
Nissan’s management say they have no plans to reintroduce the Datsun name to Britain. The company’s tie-up with Renault already markets the Romanian Dacia brand here and they believe that’s enough to meet UK demand for low-cost cars.
It’s doubtful, too, whether the far stricter safety and emission demands of the European markets, along with the higher standards of equipment that have become the norm, would make the Datsun Go a viable project here.
Still, it’s interesting to see the Datsun name brought back from the grave. It would be nice to see a few of the famous old British marques revived. How about a new Wolseley or Standard?