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A showcase of possibilities

Nissan Canada boss looks at importing new models

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Journalists at the Nissan 360 event in Newport Beach, Calif., were given the chance to drive the all-electric Nissan Leaf Nismo RC and experience a hot lap with a professional driver behind the wheel.

POSTMEDIA KEVIN MIO Enlarge Image

Journalists at the Nissan 360 event in Newport Beach, Calif., were given the chance to drive the all-electric Nissan Leaf Nismo RC and experience a hot lap with a professional driver behind the wheel.

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. -- What are the Micra, Tiida and Qashqai?

Answer: Three Nissan models that are extremely popular in other markets but will likely never see the light of day in North America.

But Christian Meunier, the president of Nissan Canada, might have something to say about that when all is said and done. Meunier was in California recently during Nissan 360, a month-long showcase of Nissan, Infinti and Datsun products from around the world.

As part of the event, media members were given opportunities to drive vehicles we would otherwise never see. And Meunier was keenly interested in hearing the opinion of Canadian journalists on a few models, including the three trivia answers above.

Of the three, however, only one -- the Tiida -- could be an interesting choice for the Canadian marketplace. I had a conversation with Meunier to discuss the three models after test driving them on and around an abandoned U.S. marine base.

The Tiida is, in essence, a hatchback version of the Nissan Sentra, already a popular model within the brand in Canada.

And Meunier believes that given the tendency for Canadians -- and in particular Quebec consumers -- to opt for hatchbacks, it could be a viable option to consider bringing over to our shores.

There are challenges, though, Meunier said. First and foremost there's the fact the lineup of vehicles for Nissan in Canada is, for the most part, determined by what the United States does for business reasons.

But, Meunier joked, maybe it's time for Canada to lead the way on this product and then, maybe, let the U.S. have it too.

The Tiida left a good impression during a short ride, not only for its comportment on the road, but also the interior spaciousness and its design. It has a decent amount of power from its 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine, and comes with either a five-speed manual or continuously variable transmission. That it can seat five and has the versatility of a hatchback are also attractive features.

The Micra is a small, fuel-efficient vehicle that could be interesting in the Canadian market, but concerns were raised during a roundtable discussion that it would take away from the Versa Note, which was recently launched in Canada.

While Meunier spoke highly of the Qashqai, which is a more compact version of the Rogue and has a diesel engine, bringing it into the North American market would not make sense given the fact the totally redesigned 2014 Rogue is due to go on sale later this year. That redesign was shown to the assembled media at Nissan 360 and, while we can't yet show you pictures, it is an interesting new design that Nissan has high hopes for.

On the topic of diesel engines, that is something Meunier would like to bring to Canada, but several hurdles would need to be overcome before that is possible. The engines would first have to be designed to meet North American environmental standards, and that is something that is cost prohibitive, Meunier said.

Meunier, who previously oversaw Nissan's growth in the Brazilian market, has his sights set high for Canada. The current market share of the Nissan and Infiniti brands in Canada is five per cent. He hopes to be able to double that thanks to new products and new approaches.

Other highlights of the Nissan 360 event included the chance to drive the Nissan Leaf Nismo RC, an all-electric racing car. It's quite the experience, especially during a hot lap with a professional driver at the wheel. And while you might expect an electric car to be silent, inside the cabin it sounded more like a jet engine was propelling the car around the track -- and it felt almost as fast, too. Almost.

A hot lap in the GT-R GT3 race car and a rare chance to drive the Juke R were heart-pounding experiences.

On the Infiniti side, I was quite impressed by the Q50 and its handling on an obstacle course. Then again, with Formula One champion Sebastian Vettel helping to tune the car, I should have expected nothing less.

On top of all its cars from around the world, Nissan also showed off all its trucks and buses. From pretending to be a delivery man in an NV to driving a 30-passenger bus around a simulated city track, there really was something for everyone to experience.

-- Postmedia Network Inc. 2013

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 6, 2013 E6

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