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Nissan has a big year planned for 2022 with the arrival of the new Qashqai, X-Trail, Pathfinder and Z. All four are important in their own way, but one stands out ahead of the others in terms of the impact it could have on the brand’s Australian hopes.
While the X-Trail is critical because it’s the brand’s biggest seller, it should have no trouble retaining that role; the Pathfinder has underperformed for Nissan, so any growth from it would be a bonus; while the Z will add some excitement but only sell in limited volume.
Nissan has been teasing its e-Power technology for years and 2022 will finally see it hit local showrooms. This is a big deal for Nissan, introducing not only a hybrid powertrain at a time when more and more Australians are looking to buy fuel-efficient cars, but because e-Power is a unique technology that has the potential to give the brand an advantage over its rivals.
The key difference between e-Power and a conventional ‘parallel’ hybrid is Nissan’s set-up only ever uses the electric motor to drive the wheels, whereas a parallel hybrid (like Toyota’s popular system) is able to use either the petrol engine or electric motor (or a combination of both) to power the wheels.
E-Power uses the petrol engine as an onboard generator to charge the battery that in-turn powers the motor.
As far as Nissan is concerned there are several benefits to this format, most notably it means the e-Power performs more like an EV rather than a petrol-powered car. And because the petrol engine is only used to charge the battery, not drive the wheels, the engine is able to run at its optimum RPM to further reduce fuel economy.
At the same time, by using the petrol engine to keep the battery topped up, e-Power models don’t need large, heavy battery packs like a full EV. Which, in turn, means you refuel an e-Power vehicle with petrol, rather than plugging it in so there’s no behavioural change required by the owner.
The precise e-Power system for the Qashqai is believed to be a 140kW/330Nm electric motor, supported by a 1.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine. For comparison, the Hyundai Kona’s 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol engine makes 130kW/265Nm and the Mazda MX-30 Hybrid makes only 114kW/200Nm.
In theory that means the Qashqai e-Power will be both fuel efficient and powerful, which should help appeal to buyers in a highly competitive segment of the market.
Speaking of the small SUV market, it’s currently on track to sell more than 125,000 models in 2021, with sales up nearly 44 per cent year-to-date, recovering nicely from the pandemic-induced slump of 2020.
The Qashqai is currently only the seventh best-selling model in the segment, with 5588 sales year-to-date, which is well behind the market-leading MG ZS with 13,740 sales. But that’s a decline from the glory days of the Qashqai pre-pandemic.
In 2018, it was the third best-selling small SUV, behind only the Mitsubishi ASX and Mazda CX-3, selling nearly 14,000 examples (13,950 to be precise). With the current model on course to sell approximately 7500 units in 2021, that leaves a lot of ground for Nissan to recover – nearly 6500 sales.
Given the current model’s age and supply issues, Nissan should be confident of making up that sales gap and returning the Qashqai to a higher place on the sales chart. That alone could be enough for Nissan to pass Volkswagen in the overall sales race, which is why it’s such a critical model for the brand.
In many respects, the Qashqai has filled the gap left by the Pulsar, as Nissan’s small car of choice by Australian buyers. While the market has evolved, so has the brand’s offerings and this has been reflected in the strong performance of the X-Trail and Qashqai in previous years.
The combination of fresh design, e-Power technology and Nissan’s reputation means the Qashqai may be small but has big potential for the brand in 2022.