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Earlier this year we asked if 2020 would be make or break for Nissan. Obviously, it came before the world was upside down, so expectations of success and failure changed, but within the wider context of the car industry there are some clear conclusions we can make as 2020 comes to an end.
Coming off the back of a difficult 2019, which saw a 12.3 per cent sales decline and only one new model launch (the low-volume Leaf EV), this year was expected to be tough prior to COVID-19’s arrival. Again, there was only one new model to launch - the Juke - but it was an important one to get right.
Having survived a rough 2020 for everyone, Nissan needs to turn its fortunes around in 2021 and beyond but there are some valid reasons the company can be optimistic.
As we explained back at the start of the year, Nissan’s decision to abandon the passenger car market wasn’t a problem because it had a wide range of SUVs that continued to sell in good numbers.
Not surprisingly the brand’s key models - X-Trail and Qashqai - took a hit in 2020 with the Coronavirus lock downs around the country. But how those two models fared against their rivals (who were all impacted by coronavirus in the same way) doesn’t make good reading for Nissan.
The X-Trail, which is still the brand’s most popular individual model, slipped from being the third most popular mid-size SUV to being the fourth thanks to a strong year from the Hyundai Tucson. With an all-new Tucson coming in 2021 it will make life tough for Nissan to recover that lost ground.
The good news for Nissan is new metal is one the way, with an all-new Qashqai set to arrive in late 2021 followed by the new X-Trail the following year. Both models are expected to bring new styling, extra technology and more efficient hybrid engines to ensure Nissan is competitive against its arch-rivals in these markets.
The other positive sign is the growth of the new Juke. Sales of the compact SUV are up nearly 87 per cent, thanks to a less-polarising design and the excitement a new-look model typically brings.
Beyond those core models Nissan is also likely to add the all-electric Ariya in 2022 or 2023 to further enhance both its SUV and EV credentials.
There’s another, short-term, reason for optimism for the Japanese brand too - there’s a new Navara coming in early 2021. The D23-generation ute has had a mid-life makeover, bringing new styling and technology.
Headlined by the new PRO-4X grade, the new Navara features a fresh look with new black front bumper, grille, door handles, running boards and 17-inch alloy wheels. The engine remains unchanged however, a 2.3-litre diesel with either a 120kW/403Nm single turbo version or a 140kW/450Nm twin-turbo option.
The introduction of the new model is likely to help push Navara sales in the right direction again after the drama of 2020.
Aside from the incoming arrival of the new X-Trail, Qashqai and Navara, Nissan has more reasons to expect good things in the coming years. With the drama of former CEO Carlos Ghosn now in the background, Nissan’s leadership in Japan has been able to make some clear decisions for its future.
One of the big ones was to not only retain but renew the brand’s two famous sports cars - the Zed and GT-R. As they said at the time, keeping the Zed and GT-R is crucial to the brand retaining its “Nissan-ness” as it pushes towards an era of electrification.
The thinly-disguised Z Proto means we know what to expect when the next Zed (likely badged 400Z) arrives in 2022. It’s unlikely to be a big seller but it will help generate some excitement around the brand at a crucial time, with the new Qashqai and X-Trail looking to lure buyers back to the brand.
Less is known about the next-generation GT-R, with Nissan yet to officially announce anything on it. It’s likely to debut in 2023 and is expected to, at least, offer a hybrid powertrain to ensure it remains a relevant hero model for the rest of the decade.