YOKOHAMA, Japan -- Nissan Motor Co. plans to bring a new global small car to the United States after 2010 that will be positioned below its current entry-level product, the Nissan Versa.
Speaking at the company's headquarters here today, officials said the U.S. market will be part of a major campaign to sell 1 million vehicles a year from a newly created low-cost “V platform.”
The small platform will yield three models: a four-door sedan, a five-door hatchback and a multipurpose vehicle. They will replace the subcompact Micra that is now sold in markets around the world other than the United States.
The European Micra is built at Nissan's Sunderland, England, plant. It shares a platform with the Japan-market March.
Vincent Cobee, V platform manager, said the plan is Nissan's effort to dig deeper into the small A and B segments of the auto industry, which, he said, is capturing a growing share of world vehicle sales. The new vehicle will contain a three-cylinder engine.
The current Micra is 146 inches long, almost 2 feet shorter than the 169-inch Versa.
Cobee and other project managers declined to reveal the official name of the upcoming vehicle or say when it will appear at U.S. dealerships. The new platform will be manufactured at five plants around the world, he said, launching first in Thailand in March 2010.
Cobee also declined to specify which of the three models would be offered to U.S. dealers.
The move is a clear push by the Japanese automaker to move deeper into small, fuel-efficient low-cost vehicles. Automakers from Mazda Motor Corp. to General Motors Co. have been shifting their product lineups toward smaller models in the face of the past year's market turmoil. Like other manufacturers, Nissan North America Inc. has been hobbled by plummeting sales of its bigger vehicles, such as the Pathfinder SUV and Quest minivan.
One year ago, Nissan began marketing a stripped-down version of its Versa that became the lowest-priced car in America. That model, equipped with a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine, starts at $10,620, including destination charges.
The Versa is physically larger than the Toyota Yaris and Honda Fit, its most direct competitors and the smallest U.S. offerings from those automakers.
Cobee said engineers and planners on the V platform project spent the past four years devising new ways to knock production costs and weight out of a small car.
Among the plans unveiled today:
• Japan will stop making the current March, handing off production to plants in India, China, Thailand and two other unidentified markets. Combined, those plants will produce 200,000 a year or more of the new models. Nissan did not clarify where U.S. models would be manufactured.
• The new platform will see a 50 percent improvement in fuel-economy over the current Micra. The cars will come with both gasoline and diesel engines, depending on local market demand.
• Engineers have reduced the total number of parts in the car by 18 percent. Its driver cockpit will have 27 parts, rather than the current Micra's 56. Front seats will have 50 parts, down from 85 in the Micra.