Thirty years ago, it was the goal of every sarariman in Japan to rise up the corporate ladder. As he did, Japanese car makers marketed executive sedans of various degrees of status to cater to every level of corporate rank, from Datsun Bluebird, Datsun Laurel and Nissan Cedric all the way to Nissan President.
Power to the people and the used car market
But Japan's powerful middle class knows its trend setting purchasing power. As trend setters, they have become the victims of the trends they set. Whenever a newish configuration appears - personal coupe, MINI, micro van, station wagons, boat puller - whole towns rush to order the trendy model as the just-passe model gets marked down. Thus most hot-at-moment categories, when they fade, never get a second chance. With tough State mandated Vehicle Inspection schemes by the third year, the passe models end up cheap in used car lots for export to other countries.
Recently, during Japan's 20 years of stagnation, there's been a change in Japan's demographic. Japan's twenty somethings - freeters, a class of youth that live with their parents but have large disposable incomes - are the least car crazy generation and have no cradle-to-grave employment. Cellphones, broadband everywhere and Shinkansen trips mean they don't need to drive Japan's boring 100km/h expressway speed limit to get out of Japan's grey cities. Japanese car makers are trying to appeal to them with more gimmicks, gizmos, gadgets and eye popping daring shapes. Toyota Prexy Akio Toyoda, when announcing the FT-86 as recently as one and half years ago, emphasized this drift of the youth as a signal to Japan's car makers to make cars exciting again. Meantime, the fifty something generation, still attached to the car as status symbol, looks for something less attention grabbing that doesn't look like a country bumpkin's 4WD. Witness a rebirth of the executive sedan?
More than one way
Just when global sales of the executive sedan market is being pummeled by compact and mid-size cars, car makers keep shouting louder for the "unique" strengths of their entries - smoother, more powerful, more spacious, sportier, quieter, more prestigious - exec saloons are fragmenting into 2 segments. But then, are they distinguished enough to counter the slide in executive car demand, even if the segment is showing some revival in Japan?
Still conservative to the core
One segment, or the Camry segment, offers bigger, better, more luxury and more power. In this segment, the nubile challengers are the Honda Accord and the Mitsubishi Galant. The other segment are the Sporty execs, saloon cars that emphasize a more handy size with a ride/handling compromise that favor drivers who have sporty or European tastes in driving dynamics. These are the Mazda6 and the Subaru Legacy. Outside of Japan, Hyundai's sexy Sonata is making inroads in this segment.
With some exception
For the past three years, the unchallenged default exec sedan in Japan were any of the 5 or 6 model families of Toyota Crowns. The next step down is dominated by the Camry and Toyota's Mark X. Executives in the more flamboyant marketing, media and design sector were "allowed" a Subaru Legacy, without losing dignity on the hierarchical corporate status ladder. Now, Nissan has reentered this category with the latest Teana.
What chance has it got?
So is the Teana's arrival in the Philippines, an anti climax? In a market segment that is in decline and increasingly dominated by the Lexus-like Camry? How will it fare versus pre-owned German brand status sports sedans? Or, mid-size turbo diesel SUVs and Crossovers? How does it stack up with the performance biased Legacy or the very competent and sexy Sonata?
It all about Shift
We have seen the styling cues before. One of the hallmarks of any Nissan model that is fresh from the revitalized Nissan "Shift" school of design is the interior designer designed interior. The 350Z was first; then the Murano and now the Teana. The dashboard and interior could be a product of the Barcelona or California design studio: modern but at the same time respectful of traditional materials like leather, wood and metals.
Unconventional at least in profile
Like all Japanese exec cars, the Teana is well equipped. The seats are well contoured and have proper springing. They are more supple than seats of most ASEAN built rivals. But then it wouldn't be a Nissan if it didn't have superior seats. The neat array of console buttons remind one of a stereo keyboard of the clean style of Bang and Olufsen. Clear 3D like graphics on the video monitor with all the audio, climate and on board computer info share top marks. There's generous rear legroom and headroom, the kind that one would not assume with such a low roof. The greenhouse, like the old Audi A6, is long and overlaps a golf-bag deep trunk. This is note worthy as Japanese market tastes hardly ever warmed up to the fastback 6-light greenhouse.
Softly, softly so no Legacy
The ride is, my apologies for the comparison, Camry supple and a huge advance over the floppy old Cefiro. The body in white must be have high torsional rigidity, the product of deploying specialty steels. Proof of this is high levels of NVH reduction, even silencing the Bridgestone B390 tires, tires better known for longevity rather than road silence. Steering is light in the way Renaissance Nissan's are. It is no slouch either, with a willingness to execute the 0-100km/h test in a little less than 10 seconds. The 182PS 2.5-liter V6 issues the sweet sewing machine like hum that the award winning Nissan QV series V6's are known for, but the 252PS 3.5-liter V6 is the créme de la créme. If the company's paying for the gas anyway, its nicer to have 252 horses as the highway consumption of the 2.5V6 and 3.5V6 ranges between 9.4 to 12.3km/liter. The CVT transmission is Nissan's own. Like all Xtronics, it is always alert to power demands as the willing QV can peak beyond 6,300rpm translating to 205km/h or hum at less than 4,000rpm when cruising at a little over 180km/h.
Vive la difference?
Nissan's new found design identity was jointly born in the Nissan design satellites in California and Barcelona. The principles of good engineering and design transcend national boundaries and nationalities. Gone also are the days when a Nissan Cedric/Gloria felt and looked like a Toyota Crown wearing a rival badge. This Teana is in synch with Nissan's fresh new look. While the Teana doesn't appeal as a Legacy challenger, it veers away from the Camry class conservative norm. Neither does it aspire to be a Jaguar XJ, the way the Sonata does. Its got a genuine Nissan identity, rather than being just another Japanese executive car wearing a Nissan badge. Its not remotely a successor to the conservative Cefiro, although NMPI would certainly want a repeat of the Cefiro's market penetration when its only local rival was the Galant many moons ago. The executive class may look boring to those who don't belong, but to them, its all in the nuance and the detail. As to that being the conventional path to success up the corporate ladder, we cannot argue with.