YOKOHAMA, Japan -- Aiming to buff its sporty image in the United States, Nissan Motor Co. will raise the U.S. profile of its Nismo performance tuner subbrand by sponsoring circuit events and backing teams in the 2013 Grand Am season.
Darren Cox, Nissan's global motor sports director, said enhancing Nismo is part of a global drive that includes a new headquarters for the Nismo unit, a return to Le Mans with an electrified racer and plans for a Nismo-badged GT-R sports car.
Nissan also said it plans to launch more Nismo street cars at a pace of about one a year through 2017.
Nismo President Shoichi Miyatani declined to say what models might get the 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 2014 Le Mans 24-hour endurance race, Nismo will enter an experimental car with an electrified drivetrain. Last year it introduced its Deltawing racer there, but it's 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 headquarters and r&d center near Nissan's global head office in Yokohama.
With workshops, office space, test facilities and a massive showroom, Nismo's new headquarters is in Nissan's former Tsurumi powertrain r&d center. About 190 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, Australia'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" for determining which motorsports events Nissan enters.
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 Rolex 24 at Daytona and 12 Hours of Sebring.
Said Cox: "That's the space where Nissan should be."