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How the Nissan Qashqai reinvented the family car

Fri, 31 Jan 2014

The 2014 Nissan Qashqai (above) arrived in showrooms this week, but will the second-generation model be as groundbreaking as the first?

Inevitably, the all-new Qashqai looks very similar to the outgoing model, but why change a winning formula? The original Qashqai was, arguably, the most successful new family car launch since the original Volkswagen Golf from 1974. And it came out of the blue, because Nissan was perhaps the last company anyone would have expected to come up with such a revolutionary design.

Where the Qashqai led, others frantically followed – most major car manufacturers having subsequently jumped aboard the crossover bandwagon. And it all started with the 2007 original (below).


In the UK, Nissan had been a bit of a paradox. Its factory in Sunderland was legendary – fantastic quality and peerless productivity meant it was regularly rated as Europe’s number-one car plant. However, Nissan cars had been losing market share for most of the preceding 20 years. Originally sold on the basis of equipment, reliability and value, the old Bluebirds and Sunnys were rendered obsolete by European cars that improved their quality and equipment, while offering far better design.

Nissan had improved the engineering with the 1990s Primeras and Micras, but they could not shake off the old dull image of the company. Meanwhile its small family cars were a disaster area – the Almera was better engineered than the Sunny (below) but was no better to look at, and the non-turbo 1.7 diesel could be out-accelerated to 60mph by a Fiat Panda 1000.


Nissan decided that it could not sell family hatchbacks in Europe. No matter how good they might be, no one would take any notice of them. So chief designer Stephane Schwarz came up with a concept for a car that looked more like an off-roader, but was actually a standard family hatchback underneath – albeit a very well developed one.

At first, there was a lot of scepticism within Nissan boardrooms, because crossovers were seen as a niche like, say, estate cars. They were a worthwhile addition to a range, but no one had ever tried to make an entire family car range out of one.

However, the public did not care about questions of strategy. They simply saw a car that was about the same size as a Focus, but had some of the off-road kudos of something more prestigious. No one was going to mistake it for a Land Rover, but it did bask in the reflected prestige of upmarket SUVs. The radical name – Qashqai – further distinguished it from Nissan’s bland traditions, and people were prepared to overlook the fact it was a Nissan. After all, people were seduced by the looks long before they could read the badge.

The Qashqai suddenly made the Almera (below) seem old-hat overnight.


The results were astonishing. Nissan had never sold more than 30,000 C-segment cars a year, and many of those were base-model cars sold at rock-bottom prices to fleet customers. Qashqai sales just kept going up – the last year of the Mk 1 was also its best. In addition, most of the customers were retail buyers or user-choosers who were buying upmarket versions for decent money.

The sales charts prove just how popular Nissan's gamble has been. The Qashqai has remained in the top 10 sellers' list in the UK for most of its life.

MSN Cars

Nissan then applied the same formula to the next class down with the Juke, with similar success. To all intents and purposes, the Juke is a shrunken Qashqai, albeit one with a dash more attitude and punch to its swagger.

Now the issue is maintaining Nissan’s momentum. There will be more and more rivals (Fiat too has decided there is no future in family hatchbacks), but that is inevitable. Nissan is easily the market leader in family crossovers and has a lot of loyal customers to whom it can sell the Mk 2 Qashqai (below).


The irony is that the Qashqai has boosted Nissan’s image so much that the company will soon introduce a family hatchback again. It thinks the Nissan name is now strong enough to take on the Astra, Focus and Golf head-on. Whatever the new model is called, it is a safe bet that it won’t be Almera.

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By Jay Nagley, contributor, MSN Cars