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Will Nissan vans return to Australia? Here's what Nissan Townstar offers against Volkswagen Caddy, Renault Kangoo, Peugeot Partner and others, as van sales get serious

Based on the Renault Kangoo III that has yet to be launched in Australia, the Nissan Townstar differs in its grille treatment.

After decades of absence in the field, Nissan Australia may return to light commercial vans in the near future.

At least, one (or more) vans wearing Nissan badges at any rate might land Down Under sometime over the next couple of years, since the Japanese brand is set to leverage the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance in Europe, to see what may be available for our local market.

The front runner is the Nissan Townstar, which is based on the Renault Kangoo III unveiled a year ago, and built by the French manufacturer in Maubeuge. Both utilise the Alliance’s Common Module Family (CMF-C) front-drive platform that underpins scores of other models, including the Nissan Qashqai and X-Trail, as well as the latest Mitsubishi Outlander.

The move back to vans highlights the increasingly popular – and competitive – nature of the light commercial vehicle sector in Australia, dominated by the Volkswagen Caddy in the small field and the Toyota HiAce in the larger arena.

According to Nissan Australia managing director Adam Paterson, changing consumer habits and the necessity to have no-contact transactions have driven the demand for vans sky high over the past two years around the globe.  

“Obviously the delivery market has increased over the course of the last 18 months, and I don’t see that going backwards in the near future,” he told CarsGuide late last month.

“(We are) continuing to look at what products we can leverage from the overall Nissan portfolio globally that would meet a demand in this market.

“Emission, crash, regulatory requirements for this market are more similar to what they are in Europe, so if we are looking at products that would be a possibility here… it’s the more modern markets that have more similarities, and that’s where we would look.”

Just like the Volkswagen Caddy, the Townstar might also be offered in a passenger van version, offering a second row of seats, wind-down door windows and other wagon amenities, while retaining the high-roof and large cargo capacity out back.

Townstar orders have only recently started in Europe, with two internal-combustion engine choices for now, as per the Kangoo III – a 1.3-litre four-cylinder petrol turbo and a 1.5-litre turbo-diesel.

Of growing interest will be the all-electric Townstar Electric version, mirroring the coming Kangoo E-Tech EV van that's also slated for Australia, since the previous Nissan small van – the e-NV200 – sold in strong numbers in several regions around the world (though not locally). 

Using a 44kWh battery and a 90kW/245Nm electric motor to drive the front wheels, its range is claimed to be 285km.

All Townstar grades should include a wide suite of active and driver-assist safety systems like autonomous emergency braking (AEB), as well as hands-free parking and adaptive cruise control. Note, however, that the Kangoo III twin only managed a four-star crash-test result in the latest round of EuroNCAP ratings.

As a workhorse, the Townstar offers up to 3.9 cubic metres of space, a swivelling bulkhead, two Euro pallet capability and an 800kg payload ability. Towing capacity tops out at 1500kg, and there’s a choice of barn doors or a tailgate out back.

Meanwhile, the existing medium-sized Renault X82 Trafic that debuted back in 2014 has also been sold in Australia as the Mitsubishi Express since 2020, and though the latter scored a brutal zero-star rating by ANCAP earlier this year, sales have been healthy, with around 1800 registrations for 2021. Aiding the latter is an unparalleled 10-year conditional factory warranty.

Whether Nissan Australia decides to offer its own version of the Renault mid-sizer – retailed in Europe as the Primastar from 2022 and before that the NV300, but otherwise nearly identical to the Trafic – is unknown at this stage, though the series has only recently been upgraded with improved safety systems and convenience features to help keep it competitive.  

The same also applies to the larger Nissan Interstar, an offshoot of the full-sized Renault Master.

Small van sales in Australia don’t quite reflect the high demand for them, since supply issues and very limited stock have hobbled the two bestsellers, Caddy and ageing Kangoo II, as they both change over to their respective new generation iterations. As a result, registrations are actually down 26 per cent in 2021.

That hiccup is likely to correct itself as deliveries pick up into the new year, while the Kangoo III is earmarked for launch in Australia at the end of 2022. It’s also thought that Ford may join the fray with its coming Caddy-based Transit Connect competitor sometime in 2023, though that’s yet to be confirmed.

Looking at the medium van segment, sales there have leapt 30 per cent this year, with the HiAce commanding nearly 40 per cent share.

Whichever way it's seen, the van business is seriously booming in Australia, with Nissan keen to steal customers away from VW, Renault, Peugeot and possibly Ford in the coming years.

Finally, when was the last time Nissan offered a van in Australia? That would be the C22 Vanette and Nomad (people mover) series, sold here from 1986 to 1993.