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New Nissan Versa: Changing of the Guards

Nissan Versa hatchback version, front side view

Nissan Versa, to fit under the Sentra, starting from around US$ 12,000.

29th September 2005.
Updated: 6/10/2005.

Since the nineties, Toyota managed to beat Nissan in the luxury cars category, at least partly due to Nissan's fall to near bankruptcy level before its rescue in 1999, by Renault and the Lebanese- Brazilian origin Carlos Ghosn, CEO of both companies today.

In other words, if Nissan's circumstances failed to put Infinity on a par with Toyota's Lexus division (in volume terms), the same is not necessarily true at the other end of the spectrum: the emerging small-car segment in the biggest market in the world, the USA.

Nissan Versa hatchback version, back side view

Combined fuel economy estimated at 38 US MPG (6.19 Litre/100 km).

What could convince Nissan more than the Toyota Scion success in the US on one hand, and the rising oil prices on the other, to get down to a smaller category, with the previously announced and yesterday named 2007 Nissan Versa model?

The new Nissan Versa will be launched in the USA at prices starting from around $12,000, to fit right under the all-new Sentra (for fall 2006), which will move up in size and stature to get closer the Nissan's mid-size Altima and Maxima.

Click on thios photo to open the specs page

A "changing of the guards", with Versa taking Sentra's place at the brands entry-level gates in North America. Both will play in the under $20,000 compact (Sentra) and entry-level (Versa) segments which account for nearly 1.9 million annual sales there (around 1.5 million compact unit, or 9.0% of the US market, plus 322,000 entry-level units, or some 1.9% of the market).

Versa will be offered in two body styles, a hatchback which will reach showrooms early 2006 summer, then a 4-door sedan late next year.

While it is specific to North America (to be built at Nissan's Aguascalientes, Mexico facility, which also builds the current Nissan Sentra), Versa is based on Nissan's well known B platform which is exploited with Renault (it has 44% of Nissan which has 15% of the French company), in models such as Nissan's March/Micra, Cube, Tiida, Renault Modus and the new Clio, all in different shapes and sizes.

Nissan Versa dashboard, side view

Nissan Versa dashboard, front view

Nissan Versa, front seats

Nissan Versa, back seats

1st arguments based on generous interior space compared to overall size.

The Aguascalientes plant capacity will be increased from 200,000 units today to 350,000 units in 2007 - an increase of 70%, most of it attributed Versa and Tiida volume. The plant has capacity to produce 60 vehicles per hour. With the expanded capacity, Nissan Mexicana will increase its exports to North America from 130,000 units in 2005 to 170,000 in 2006. In 2007, the Aguascalientes plant's current exports will double to 290,000 units.

Versa is also produced in China, Japan, Thailand, Taiwan, South Africa and India, with varying levels of equipment and mechanical specification.

Known as the Tiida in Japan, China and other markets where the car is sold, Versa's first argument is reflected in its US / Canada name: versatility and interior space, compared to its length (169.1 inches, or 4295 mm for the hatchback, and 175.9 inches, or 4467 mm for the sedan) and 102.4-inch (2601 mm) wheelbase, which puts it in the equivalent of the European C segment, or lower-medium category with models such as the Toyota Corolla, VW Golf, Renault Megane (built on the common Renault-Nissan C-Platform), Peugeot 307, Fiat Stilo and others.

The offered engine is a newly developed 1.8-liter 4-cylinder to be optionally available with Nissan's Xtronic CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission), already known as standard on Nissan's Murano crossover.

While some carmakers have recently leaned more towards rebotised gearboxes to reduce fuel consumption (compared to traditional hydraulic automatics) and offer higher comfort, Nissan is strongly committed to the CVT technology, it plans to sell around 1 million CVT-fitted models worldwide before the end of the decade - four times its current sales.

Nissan Versa hatchback version, side view

Nissan Versa sedan, side view

The hatchback and the sedan versions.

In terms of reducing CO2 emissions, Nissan believes that its CVT plans should have the same effect as selling 200,000 hybrid electric vehicles (it will start offering hybrid cars in the U.S. next, using technology licensed from Toyota).

With the CVT gearbox, the all-new 1.8-liter DOHC inline 4-cylinder engine is rated at an estimated 120-horsepower and 125-plus lb-ft of torque (169 Nm). Fuel economy is estimated at a combined 38 miles per US gallon (6.19 Litre/100 km, with final engine performance and fuel economy ratings to be finalized closer to vehicle on-sale date).

Nissan estimates the Versa's CVT fuel economy improvement at 8-10% better than a 4-speed automatic.

The new entry-level model will be offered with standard and optional equipment such as (according to versions) Intelligent Key, Bluetooth® Hands-Free Phone System, satellite radio and Rockford Fosgate-powered subwoofer.

Nissan Versa, front view

Nissan Versa, back view

Versa: Nissan identity, in smaller size.

Nissan plans - After it successfully completed its NISSAN 180 plan set three years earlier (1 for attaining 1 million additional units globally*, 8 for 8 percent profitability and 0 for 0 automotive debt), the number-two Japanese carmaker announced recently its business plan for the next three years, called NISSAN Value-Up.

The new plan includes significant international sales expansion, to 4.2 million unit by fiscal year 2007-2008 (1st April 2007 to end March 2008), compared to 3.4 million for the last FY, as well as the introduction of Infiniti as a global luxury brand, outside the US (Known in Saudi Arabia since the nineties), and the launch of 28 new or replacement Nissan and Infiniti models worldwide. 

Nissan North America played a significant role in attaining the previous plan targets. Between FY98 and FY04, Nissan NA total sales increased 61%, while the total industry (there) moved up just 6.3%. In the fiscal year which ended last March, Nissan U.S. market share was 6%, up from 5.1% the year before, and became the sixth manufacturer to sell a million units in a year in the U.S.

Nissan Versa, door trim view

Versa hopes to attract with style and finish quality, not just price & size.

For the 2006 model year, and following the launch of three totally resigned vehicles in 2005 - the Pathfinder, Frontier and Xterra - changes include the first facelift for the 350Z, some added features and equipment to the Quest, Altima, Armada and Titan, while the Murano gets styling updates inside and out.

Nissan's 2007 model year vehicles will include, with the Versa, the addition of a hybrid vehicle (based on Toyota licensed technology), enhancing the Maxima with a significant upgrade of the interior, and an all-new mid-size Altima sedan which will debut at the New York Auto Show next April.

* Updated: 6/10/2005. Nissan Motor Co., Ltd, announced on the 6th of October 2005 that it sold 3.671 million vehicles from 1 Oct., 2004 to 30 Sept., 2005, successfully delivering on the company’s final NISSAN 180 commitment to sell an additional 1 million vehicles during the 12 month period compared with fiscal year 2001.

In terms of individual markets, North America, including Mexico and Canada, was the biggest contributor to the 1.073 million additional sales, accounting for 437,000 units. Nissan’s general overseas markets (all markets excluding North America, Japan and Europe) were second with 364,000 units. Japan contributed 188,000 units, while Europe accounted for 84,000 units.

By model, the Frontier/Navara/Pickup was the biggest contributor to the 3.671 million sales with 307,000 units sold, followed by the Altima sedan with 305,000 units and the March/Micra compact car with 258,000 units. 

Nissan’s two other commitments under its NISSAN 180 business plan – an operating profit margin of 8% and zero net automotive debt – were accomplished in the first year of that plan, two years ahead of schedule.

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