Special Coverage

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GENEVA –”Shift,” the Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. tagline used around the world, may change soon.

“We’re working globally on a replacement,” says Brian Carolin, marketing director of Nissan Europe, says in an interview at the auto show here.

“I don’t think we’ve made any decision to drop ‘Shift,’ but we’re looking at how we (might do that), particularly with this new round of products.”

Carolin admits Nissan’s brand image in Europe is “rather flat.” Customers know it on a rational basis for its Japanese attributes, such as quality, but the brand has little emotional content.

New products, such as the Qashqai cross/utility vehicle, will help add emotion, he says, and a new tagline will better reflect what the brand stands for.

Nissan in the past tried to occupy the same role in Europe as it does in North America and Japan as a volume auto maker competing in all segments. However in Europe, its basic C/D cars – the Almera and Primera – never sold well.

“We have a strong foothold in small cars, with the Micra,” Carolin says.

The company is strong in SUVs – it introduced a new X-Trail at the Geneva show – and the Navarra is Europe’s best-selling pickup, “but where we suffered was in the middle,” he says.

The Qashqai, which has replaced the abandoned Primera sedan at Nissan’s U.K. plant, is a conscious attempt to avoid “me-too” designs, and will be followed by other products with the same philosophy, Carolin says.

Nissan expects the Qashqai to sell about 100,000 units across Europe. “We’ve got about 15,000 advance orders,” Carolin says, which is a mix between final customers and dealer orders.

In the U.K., alone, Nissan has 3,500 orders from final customers, with a high mix of 2-wheel-drive models. That pleases Carolin, because it means buyers are evaluating the Qashqai as a car and not as a utility vehicle.

“I think we are in serious risk of having a success with this car,” he says.

Nissan’s Sunderland, U.K., plant is the world source for the Qashqai, shipping to Japan, Australia, South Africa and other markets. Nissan will build the Rogue, a longer version on the same platform, in Japan for shipping to the U.S., but Carolin says adding capacity for the vehicle in Japan has not been considered as an option.

Nissan sold 539,000 vehicles in Europe in 2006, when its only new car was the small Nissan Note. Carolin pegs growth at about 10% this year, with the Note available for the full year and the Qashqai for most of the year.

Although total 2006 sales were about even with 2005, Nissan was up 40% in Russia to 75,000 units, but down in Western Europe. “That was to be expected, because we’ve been running out the old gray ladies, the Almera, Tino, Primera,” he says.

Carolin expects Russia to grow to about 100,000 units this year, with its economy growing quickly thanks to the low price of abundant oil and gas. Customers are switching from the domestic brands to international brands, he says, and the overall market is growing, which gives a double boost.

Nissan is building a $200 million plant near St. Petersburg with annual capacity of 50,000 units that is projected to begin production in October 2008. The auto maker expects to grow in some other East Europe markets, as well, including the Ukraine and Kazakhstan.