YOKOHAMA, Japan -- Nissan Motor Co. aims to buff its sporty image with a gleaming new headquarters for its Nismo tuner sub-brand, a return to Le Mans with an electrified racer and plans for an even higher performance Nismo-badged GT-R sports car.
Nissan's Nismo unit will also raise its U.S. profile by sponsoring circuit events and backing teams in the 2013 Grand Am season, Darren Cox, Nissan's global motor sports director said today.
More Nismo street cars will also arrive, about one a year through 2017, Nissan said. Nismo President Shoichi Miyatani declined to say what models might get future Nismo treatment.
But Jerry Hardcastle, global chief marketability engineer, fingered the Altima and Sentra sedans as U.S. possibilities.
In the United States, the first Nismo-badged variants go on sale this year, the Juke in March and the 370Z in the summer.
At the Le Mans 24-hour endurance race, Nismo will enter an experimental car with an electrified drivetrain at the 2014 running, after debuting its black Deltawing racer there last year and sitting out in 2013, Miyatani said.
The Nismo version of the GT-R will go on sale in the next 12 months. But Nissan declined to say when or give specifications.
The expansion of the Nismo footprint, outlined by CEO Carlos Ghosn, comes as the company tries to reinforce its new brand message of "innovation and excitement for all."
"The next chapter is the true globalization of Nismo," Ghosn said while opening Nismo's new headquarters and r&d center near Nissan's global head office in downtown Yokohama.
Housing workshops, office space, testing facilities and a massive showroom, Nismo's new headquarters building takes over the carmaker's vacated Tsurumi powertrain r&d center. About 189 people will work there, developing race engines, producing carbon fiber components, and prepping cars for competition.
Key to Nismo's global blitz is entering the Altima sedan in Australia's 2013 V8 Supercars series, the Down Under's answer to Nascar. But executives ruled out following Toyota as the next Japan brand making a run at the North American stock car series.
Miyatani said Nascar doesn't fit with Nissan's brand.
"We are not really talking about it," Miyatani said. "We are always thinking about innovation and excitement. Whether it's innovative – that is the criteria" we consider in motor sports.
In the Grand Am series, which merges next year with the American Le Mans series, Nismo will supply Le Mans Prototype 2 class cars, Cox said. Nissan first participated in the U.S. series in 2012. Next year's combined championship features races such as the 24 at Daytona and 12 Hours of Sebring.
Said Cox: "That's the space where Nissan should be."