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Skyline? Altima? Pulsar? What happened to Nissan's once-popular passenger cars, and will the Japanese giant develop a Toyota Crown-style crossover?

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What happened to these once-popular Nissan passenger cars in Australia?
What happened to these once-popular Nissan passenger cars in Australia?

Are Nissan passenger cars gone forever? The brand is in full SUV mode, launching new versions of the Pathfinder, X-Trail and Qashqai imminently, but apart from the Leaf and Z there are no sedans or hatchbacks to be seen in the Japanese brand’s Australian line-up.

Even the replacement for the second-generation Leaf is said to be some sort of crossover, so is that it for the brand’s traditional cars altogether?

Speaking at the launch of the new X-Trail in Japan, Nissan is indicating this might be the case.

When asked if Nissan would renew its passenger car range (which still consists of the Skyline, Fuga, Cima sedans, and Note hatch in Japan) and whether these nameplates would have a Toyota Crown-style crossover refresh, Nissan executives said: “With regard to our sedans; we believe that technology is key to building a car which reflects the Nissan brand.

“We could create a whole new range of sedans, but only if they reflect what Nissan currently stands for.”

When it comes to the X-Trail, Nissan was clear this brand vision means sustainability, technology, and safety.

Representatives wouldn’t specifically comment on the future of its Japanese domestic sedan range, consisting of the Skyline, Fuga, or Cima specifically, but explained: “Globally, sedans are decreasing, in Japan they are decreasing. Market share [globally] now is only around five percent.”

Nissan’s 2030 vision report shows that the brand is busy fixing its reputation in the US (where ex-CEO Carlos Ghosn focused on positioning it as a fleet-focused brand), bringing down the age of its products, and doubling down on its momentum in markets like China. It also plans to convert more nameplates to e-Power hybrids and electric vehicles.

So what happened to Australia’s most loved Nissan passenger car nameplates? Let’s have a look.

Pulsar

The Pulsar lived on for a short time in Europe.
The Pulsar lived on for a short time in Europe.

The Nissan Pulsar ceased to exist in Australia in 2016 after a lacklustre final generation (C12) released in 2013. We never received the new-generation C13 version which arrived in 2014 for the European market.

In Japan, the Pulsar (there known as the Sylphy) was eventually replaced by the hybrid equipped Note hatch and Nissan Leaf EV, while a small sedan lives on in the US known as the Versa.

The Leaf electric car is about as close to a Pulsar as you can currently buy in Australia.

Skyline

The Skyline still exists, but we knew it most recently as the Infiniti Q50.
The Skyline still exists, but we knew it most recently as the Infiniti Q50.

The Nissan Skyline, despite its long history and the prestige of the badge amongst car enthusiasts, has not been officially sold in Australia since just 100 versions of the R32 were sold in the early ‘90s.

The top performance grade GT-R was spun-off into its own nameplate for the R35 generation, only just discontinued in Australia, while the Skyline nameplate continued in Japan as a Nissan-badged version of what we knew as the Inifiniti Q50.

What about a Toyota Crown-style crossover? It already exists in the form of the Infiniti QX50 overseas.
What about a Toyota Crown-style crossover? It already exists in the form of the Infiniti QX50 overseas.

There’s precedent for a Skyline crossover in the vein of the new Toyota Crown, because there’s even been one before. We knew it in Australia as the Infiniti QX50, which was a spin-off of the twelfth-generation (V36) Skyline, and it continues to this day in the US market as the second-generation QX50 which launched in 2019. The QX50 is no longer sold or built in Japan.

Altima

Nissan's storied Camry rival lives on in America.
Nissan's storied Camry rival lives on in America.

The fifth-generation Altima mid-size sedan was discontinued in Australia in 2017, packing either a 3.5-litre V6 or 2.5-litre four-cylinder driving the front wheels via a CVT automatic. At the time it was sourced from Thailand and served as Nissan’s direct rival to the Toyota Camry.

The Altima lives on for a sixth-generation in America and China, where it is also built. It dumped the 3.5-litre V6 and instead powers on with either a 2.0-litre turbocharged or 2.5-litre non-turbo four-cylinder engine, in either front- or all-wheel drive.

There is no direct replacement for the Altima in Australia, with the closest mid-size option being the X-Trail mid-size SUV.

Maxima

The Maxima still sits at the pinnacle of the Nissan sedan range in both the USA and China.
The Maxima still sits at the pinnacle of the Nissan sedan range in both the USA and China.

The Maxima was Nissan’s flagship sedan in Australia until it was discontinued in 2013. At the time it was the prime rival of the Toyota Aurion, but also competed with local favourites, the Holden Commodore and Ford Falcon.

More like the Aurion, the Maxima was front-wheel drive and offered a big 3.5-litre V6 driving the front wheels via a continuously variable automatic. While it reached its end in Australia before the Altima, it continued in the US and China for an eighth-generation model in 2016. In the US it continues to be offered with a 3.5-litre V6, but in China is offered with a 2.5-litre four-cylinder. Unlike the new-generation Altima, it is front-wheel drive only.

Like the Altima, no replacement for the Maxima is offered in Australia, with the closest option being the incoming new-generation Pathfinder SUV.

It is especially notable that passenger cars like the Altima and Maxima are not offered with the brand’s latest e-Power technology, nor do they represent the brand’s latest sustainability promise as mentioned by executives.

Given Nissan’s promise to reduce the number of nameplates it offers globally, it would be unsurprising to see these models rolled together into new global offerings or discontinued altogether.

Is it the end of the Nissan passenger car? While some of these cars may continue on, particularly as Nissan is growing in the Chinese market where sedans are still popular, it appears that the brand’s mission has become largely focused on SUVs as it hybridises and rationalises its range. Watch this space as we keep an eye on Nissan’s future plans for Australia.

Tom White
Senior Journalist
Despite studying ancient history and law at university, it makes sense Tom ended up writing about cars, as he spent the majority of his waking hours finding ways to drive as many as possible. His fascination with automobiles was also accompanied by an affinity for technology growing up, and he is just as comfortable tinkering with gadgets as he is behind the wheel. His time at CarsGuide has given him a nose for industry news and developments at the forefront of car technology.
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