Before Nissan, there was Datsun. Well, not really, but that’s how it appeared to us in America. Datsun was Nissan’s export brand until 1986, when they officially ended the line, deciding the world was ready for a marque that sounds like the Japanese word for “sister.” Datsun gave us some truly awesome creatures, like the unexpected 510 and the whole ancestry of Z cars. Now, not all Datsuns were track twisters, but those are the ones we remember. Now Datsun is back, but they’re certainly not playing to American performance nostalgia. In fact, they’re not coming to America at all. But perhaps they should.
As markets like India and South Africa have become more profitable, Nissan is seeking to target them specifically with a low-cost, utilitarian people’s car. They’ve already seen success in similar European markets with Nissan-Renault’s Dacia brand (pronounced Day-see-ah if you’re James May, or Datch-ya if you’re anybody else).
This week they unveiled Datsun’s first model, the Go. It’s a five-door hatch with room for as many people. It has a 68 hp, 1.2 liter, straight-3 engine and a five-speed manual. And it’s about as bare-bones a new car as you can get. Think of the cheapest rental car you’ve ever driven out of the tiny Hertz parking lot: the Go has less. A radio is an option, though Datsun also deftly offers a smart-phone dock and aux port. There isn’t even a tachometer, even though there’s no automatic option.
The stick and handbrake have been moved to the dash to make room for the many-more-than-five people Datsun predicts will be shuffled into the car. The seats are made out of a tough fabric, and we’d be willing to bet the suspension can hold up NORAD. Most of the architecture, along with the powertrain, is based on Nissan’s Micra, which we don’t get here.
Nor will we get the Datsun. Nissan will start with India, Russia, Indonesia, and South Africa, and we speculate they might break into China as soon as Chinese companies stop pledging “Death to Japan” and such. But we think the Datsun should come here to America. Because a brand new Go costs less than $7,000.
To a new generation of American car buyers, crippled with college debt and scrounging for the slightest shreds of credit, something like the Go could be a massive success. It’s cheap enough to be a graduation gift, or at least to finance with all the credit a year of paying your cell bill on time will get you. It’s bound to be dead reliable, too, as Datsun’s current “emerging” markets aren’t known for babying their autos. Nor have Nissans been known for wanton self dismantling.
Yes, it’s pretty low on power, but this could be a plus for the theoretical “graduation gift” set. Young Brayden (or whatever kids are named these days) can’t get into too much trouble with 68hp. And he would be forced to learn stick, which would effectively make the Go a five-door gearhead factory.
But Nissan also makes the cheapest car in America, the Versa, which starts at just under $13,000. Why the massive price discrepancy? The Datsun Go doesn’t have to meet the Versa’s strict US government safety and emissions standards. Bringing it to our shores would take some definite paperwork and bridge-engineering, and production costs would skyrocket, reflected in the stickers.
We’re not advocating pollution or death-trap cars (unless they’re freakin’ awesome coal-rolling diesels and/or vintage muscle cars with leaf springs and drum brakes), but it would be nice if the G-men and the manufacturers could find some middle ground for cash-strapped millennials who are only going to interface with their tablets and smart phones, anyway. Seriously, automakers. You’re spending all this time and money trying to configure the perfect in-car infotainment system for young buyers, but they’ve already perfected the ones in their pockets and slick messenger bags. Just glue on a dock and you’re golden.
Do you think we should get the Datsun Go? Would cars like this even sell here? And what about using the Datsun name when they could have just sold the Go as a Dacia? Does the cheap-as-sand Go besmirch the noble house of Datsun?
Andy Sheehan is a blogger, aspiring novelist, and relentless hoon. He plans to will his 2002 Subaru WRX Wagon to his firstborn, plans his daily commute around the swoop of its roads, and doesn’t plan to ever buy an automatic. A cool-car omnipath, he loves the common Mustang or Chevelle, but hunts for the weird and wonderful Velorexes and Cosmos of the autoverse. And when he can afford a garage, he’s going to turn an MX-5 into a race car.