There are 13 lakh new two-wheeler buyers in India every month. Even if we are able to make a fraction of them graduate to the redi-GO, our job is done,” says Arun Malhotra, the managing director of Nissan Motor India Private Ltd. I am in Kolkata, driving with him in the Datsun redi-GO, the new small car that will be launched next month and will directly compete with Maruti Alto 800, Renault Kwid and Hyundai Eon.
Datsun redi-Go, whose production run began in 1931, is a brand owned by Nissan. Until 1986, only vehicles exported outside Japan by Nissan were identified as Datsun. In 1986, Nissan phased out the brand. In 2013, Nissan revived it.
Because Datsun is targeted at the aspirational middle classes of developing nations, India was chosen as the launchpad, the first car being the Go, which couldn’t sell much. Then it launched the Go+, which too failed. The third offering is the redi-GO.
“Why we are confident about the success of the redi-GO is that it is a complete package for entry-level car buyers. It is the most spacious car in its segment, and the rear space matches that of entry-level sedans. But the best thing is that it is a very attractive design,” Malhotra says.
Good design sells. But for an entry-level buyer, who is spending over Rs 3 lakh on a car, trust is more important, which a Maruti gives him, which a Hyundai gives him.
“We are building the Datsun brand, and have come a long way since the Go was launched two years ago,” Malhotra adds. “The Datsun 1S outlet concept is helping us increase our retail presence, and with it, we are building trust.”
Currently, there are over 50 Datsun 1S outlets. In addition, Datsun cars are sold through Nissan’s 215 dealerships in 165 cities. The company is now developing its presence in tier-2 and tier-3 towns. “The good news is that our partners are willing to expand. Now that they have seen the redi-GO, they believe the car has a huge potential in India,” Malhotra says.
Clearly, the redi-GO is Datsun’s best bet towards brand building. Malhotra adds that as the company keeps coming out with relevant products for the Indian market, an increasing number of customers would start connecting with the company. “Today, prospective customers know that Datsun is a part of Nissan. This increases trust levels. This perhaps was not the case two years ago when we had launched the Go,” he says. “We are in a much better position as far as brand recall is concerned.”
The redi-GO shares its engine with the Kwid, but I notice that, unlike in the Kwid, this 799cc engine doesn’t produce much sound. “It has been appropriately tuned. We have worked a lot on NVH,” he says. The company, having learnt from the failure of the Go and the Go+, has also focused on making the design attractive.
Walking around the car, Malhotra says that the design language is called Yukan (Japanese for brave and bold). While the front grille is large and houses the company logo, just like in the Go and the Go+, it is the tail-light cluster that makes the redi-GO stand out. There are a lot of character lines on the body and the best-in-class ground clearance of 185mm gives it a heightened stance. The top-end variant gets daytime-running lights.
“The exterior design is complemented by an equally good-looking interior. The dashboard is not only modern, but also functional,” he says. As I drive, I notice there is a digital tachometer, and also a drive computer that shows instantaneous and average fuel-efficiency, distance to empty, fuel remaining and gear-shift indicator. The top-end variant gets an audio system with radio, CD, MP3, USB, Aux-in and front power windows, but the entry-level model comes without an AC. “There are places in India, such as hilly areas in the north, where people don’t really use an AC. We will give buyers all kinds of choices,” he clarifies.
The redi-GO’s claimed fuel-efficiency is 25.17kpl. “Among other technologies, this car gets i-SAT (Intelligent Spark Automated Technology), which automatically adjusts spark timing in response to fuel quality and power requirement. We have maintained a balance between power and mileage,” Malhotra adds.
I find the five-speed manual transmission smooth, even though there is some knocking when I shift to a higher gear at lower speeds. “That’s why we have provided a gear-shift indicator, so that you always drive in the right gear,” he smiles. “The redi-GO has been developed, engineered and made in India, keeping Indian driving conditions in mind. For example, it has a tight turning radius of only 4.7 metres, so you can drive and turn it around in the narrowest of lanes.”
As I press the accelerator, the small engine responds quickly. “It goes from 0-100kph in in 15.98 seconds, which is again quickest in the segment,” Malhotra says.
A year and a half ago, the Global NCAP had given a zero-star safety rating to the Go. It even called for an urgent withdrawal of the car. While Malhotra doesn’t talk about that episode (it anyway makes for another story), he says that Datsun cars come with a lot of ‘active’ safety features and comply with all home government regulations. “For example, the redi-GO has the shortest braking distance in the segment, reinforced crash protection shell, high-strength body shell to absorb impact, and a wide view of the road from the driver’s seat to minimise chances of accident. The top-end variant comes with energy-absorbing steering wheel and an airbag,” he adds.
(For the record, Global NCAP has now described the Kwid as “clearly sub-standard” in its crash tests.)
Datsun is branding the redi-GO as India’s first urban compact crossover. Malhotra argues that even though it is a small car with a 799cc engine, it has a high ground clearance and enough capability to handle all kinds of Indian roads.
The redi-GO will be priced in the range of Rs 2.5-3.5 lakh. What differentiates it from the company’s previous products is its fresh, attractive styling. The next few months will tell if it makes or breaks Datsun in India.