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The Dashboard Special Edition: Kei Cars

June 6 – Yokohama – The Dashboard, powered by Nissan, is our weekly program about cars, people, technologies, motorsports and relationships changing the auto industry.

In this week’s Special Edition, we cover the making of the Nissan DAYZ, timed to Thursday’s launch in Tokyo, and look at where minicars are headed, as the evolution of Japan’s kei-car market continues.

The Making of DAYZ

The Nissan DAYZ and Mitsubishi Motors eK Wagon.

Unveiled last month, the long-awaited result of two companies’ strengths in design and production reflect the unprecedented partnership forged two years ago, the NMKV joint venture. Now at the DAYZ launch, equally ambitious is the expectation that these models now define a higher level of quality and performance for the kei car market.

The story of DAYZ begins with kei cars, or minicars, a segment that emerged in post-war Japan as a utilitarian transport solution – with tax advantages and fuel efficiencies. Lightweight with regulated dimensions, kei cars took off. Ever popular with 18.5 million on roads last year and 40% of domestic sales.

Eager to expand its kei presence, Nissan paired up with Mitsubishi in 2011 to jointly plan, develop, design and produce these new height wagon-type mincars.

Development ramped up from July 2012 with the kick-off of the “Mitsubishi Mizushima Plant Challenge”. Executives from all three companies, including Nissan Chief Competitive Officer Hiroto Saikawa, toured the facility and the readied production lines, setting targets for the cooperation ahead.

Nissan's Hiroto Saikawa at the Mizushima Plant

Later, Nissan Chief Operating Officer Toshiyuki Shiga took to the wheel of a DAYZ for the first test drive at Mitsubishi’s Okazaki proving ground. Models reflected unique exterior design features, including strong character lines in body panels. And Shiga’s feedback finalized competitive fuel efficiency and a roomy interior for the DAYZ.

Last September, during a discussion over the next DAYZ model – a super-height wagon for launch in 2014 – Mitsubishi President Osamu Masuko described the competitive advantage of the JV.

“Single-handedly, it would be a difficult market in which to compete,” said Masuko. “But with Nissan, we can achieve higher volume, and with good technologies I think that as two large companies combined we can compete well enough. I’m looking forward to the car that we will launch next year.”

Nissan's Toshiyuki Shiga and Mitsubishi's Osamu Masuko discuss the NMKV joint venture at the DAYZ offline ceremony

But start of production for DAYZ was fast approaching, following the final test drive in April. Shiga was duly impressed. Smooth acceleration, a quiet engine and spaciousness reflected the “Nissan-ness” Shiga thought DAYZ and DAYZ Highway STAR would offer the kei market.

“Even though the base model is the same, the size is the same between Nissan and Mitsubishi, even so, we see that our Highway STAR looks really (like it has the) Nissan identity, like a Serena,” said Shiga. “And this car is like a Note. It’s very interesting. And we see that the Mitsubishi cars also express a kind of Mitsubishi identity.”

Production began early May, followed by the world’s first glimpse of the finished cars. With the best fuel-efficiency among tall wagon-type minicars and industry-first technologies, the DAYZ and its Mitsubishi counterpart set a new standard in the segment and for cooperation between competitors.

“Nissan and Mitsubishi will be chasing the three companies going ahead of us,” said Masuko. “And our hope is to be called one of the four dominants once day, and get a quarter of the market.

“Maybe a quarter is pretty ambitious, but I hope that both companies will make efforts to get a total of 20 percent of the market share. We will be competing in sale numbers, but I hope we will be able to influence each other positively to achieve great results.”

A partnership that will be key in the DAYZ ahead.




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