Nissan Australia’s managing director and CEO, Richard Emery, has revealed that the company is analysing whether to replace the medium-sized Altima with the small Pulsar sedan as its Supercars entrant as new models of each are set to appear within the next two years.
Currently both models are on hiatus in Australia after being discontinued earlier this month owing to stricter local emissions regulations, but Emery described the likely return in 2019 of a new generation of Nissan’s small and large passenger sedans would be well-timed with a new assault on the Supercars Championship.
"There'll be a couple of new cars in 2019, a new Altima and a new Pulsar sedan that might fit the [Supercars] criteria," Emery explained.
"Certainly it gives us the chance to reconsider what is the right car to be in that category. In terms of making decisions ... we'll stick with Altima this year and next year, much the same way as Ford teams are sticking with Falcon at the moment.”
"[It will] all be down to timing and what's available and what makes sense from a consumer perspective."
That consumer perspective shows the Pulsar as a more favorable marketing tool. During 2016 the medium Altima found just 900 homes, compared to the much faster-moving Pulsar sedan and hatch which tallied over 6000 sales in the same period.
When asked if the more popular but much smaller Pulsar was the right solution of a racing category that, since 1994, has relied solely on versions of medium or large sedans such as the Holden Commodore and Ford Falcon, Emery replied: "Yes, the way that chassis operates, I think most people understand that the cars really aren't those cars."
"They're a shell with some panels hung off the side, so size-wise the chassis is quite adaptable," he added.
Right now Nissan continues to run the Altima in the Supercars series, despite having dropped the sedan, along with the Pulsar from Australian showrooms leaving Nissan with a range of SUVs, the electric Leaf hatch, and the aging 370Z and GT-R performance coupes
"Our approach has been [to] make sure we get the next two replacement cars right in terms of specification and suitability for Australia. Pulsar sedan and Altima really hadn't had a change in specification in four years. The motorsport factor didn't come into it." Mr Emery said.
"Our approach always has been that we want to be in motorsport for Nissan the brand." Mr Emery clarified the brand’s decision to use the Altima as the basis for its current Supercars tilt.
"Some people made the assumption that it was to support Altima in isolation, but it was about Nissan that wants to be in motorsport in Australia because it's part of our heritage, and in Supercars we didn't have much choice except for Altima at the time," he went on.
One area of the future racing program that isn’t still to be decided is the engine of the future, which will switch from the current Patrol-derived naturally aspirated V8 engine to a variation of the Nissan GT-R road car's 3.8-litre twin-turbo V6, in line with Supercars' expanded Gen-2 regulations.
"That's the first place we'll start," Emery said. "We have the opportunity in Gen-2 to use the engine out of that car [GT-R] ... as long as we can make it work."
But the GT-R itself as a Supercars competitor has been ruled out with Emery suggesting top-level motorsport is a better fit for the brand’s halo car than a local touring car racing series would be.
"[GT-R is a] global motorsport program at the moment and for the past five years has been very much in GT racing against Lamborghinis and Ferraris," Emery explained.
"I still have a relatively firm view, unless global [headquarters] tell me otherwise, that I don't think GT-R is the right place to be in Supercars."