Nissan launches two new models. Is a Philippine revival on hand?

Nissan Logo 2

Nissan (and it’s earlier brand name, Datsun,) used to be a huge car brand in the Philippines.

My family owned a Datsun 200L when we lived in Hong Kong in the late 70s and a Cedric full-size sedan in Singapore in the 80s. We also had a box-type Sentra and a V6 Cefiro.

But since the 90s the fortunes of the iconic Japanese auto brand have floundered in the Philippines. It all started, I believe, with the box-type.

It was a very popular car that was ubiquitous on Metro Manila’s streets. The squared-off look may have appeared dated compared to the curvier Toyota Corolla, but it held its own.

Until, of course, things went awry.

After a few years, every Sentra (and California, it’s hatch brother), seemed to develop tie-dye paint. The stuff just bled off the car and turned into something Jerry Garcia would have liked on a t-shirt. The upholstery on the seats faded. Badly. And I was told by a former Toyota client that engine mounts in the old Sentras were subcontracted to local manufacturers, and weren’t up to snuff.

The series II Sentra, which got its corners smoothed off, sold pretty well, and was eventually succeeded by the series III. Which Nissan sold here. Again. And again. And again.

That Sentra surely is one of the longest-running models in Philippine automotive history. While its competitors changed models every four years, that sucker soldiered on. Eventually it became the darling of taxi companies. An anachronistic and undesirable fleet car that kept the company afloat while dragging its brand image in the mud.

Nissan eventually trotted out a new Sentra a few years back but it was a 2.0 liter variant that never caught on.

The Cefiro was once a best-seller for Nissan here, but it eventually was canned in favor of the Teana, which never found favor with the clutch-bag set the way its predecessor did.

Their attempts to duel with Toyota were at times doomed from the beginning. Case in point: the Grand Livina people-mover. It was meant to be an Innova fighter, but since it didn’t have a diesel engine, families stayed away in droves.

Although Brazilian CEO Carlos Ghosn helped defibrillate Nissan in the last decade, we never felt it in our shores.

Nissan had become an afterthought in this market, its passenger cars ignored while other players like Kia and Hyundai have thrived. Only Nissans light trucks and vans seemed to sell well.

This may all change with the introduction of the new Sylphy and Altima. At last Nissan is giving us refreshed models, the same as found in other markets, with the latest technologies like Continuous Variable Timing (CVT) transmissions. The cars are competitively priced and look great.

The Altima is a wildly successful nameplate in the USA, where it is usually only beaten in the sales charts by the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord. While those two emphasize comfort, the Altima has mostly been about driving fun.

The Sylphy is the worldwide name for the Sentra. It appears to have the potential to give the Altis, Elantra, and Civic some problems here. Premium features, like disc brakes on all four wheels, are present even in the base car.

My only complaint about the name switch: people will be snapping pics of themselves with it and “Sylphy/Selfie” jokes will likely be all over Instagram.

Nissan does have one massive hurdle to deal with, and that is resale value. Nissan always had worse residuals than Toyota and Honda, but that gap has likely widened into a chasm over the years as its offerings have been ignored by the car buying public. Somehow, someway, the new company, Nissan Philippines, (which takes over the two-headed monster of Nissan Motor Philippines Inc. and Universal Motor Corporation, formerly the two distributors) will have to fix this perception of Nissan having lousy resale value, or else customers will continue to steer clear of their showrooms.

I hope to drop by a dealer and check out the cars soon. They are both over budget for me, but if the Nissan Micra does make it here, then I’ll definitely kick the tires on that one.

Check out Top Gear Philippines’ announcement on the two new Nissans here.  Plenty of info on both models.

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