The Art of Zed

Nissan’s 350z zooms out of the starting gate

November, 2002

These are exciting times for Hawaii’s Nissan dealers and distributors. The 350Z, launched after much anticipation this summer, has been a roaring success, with an unprecedented (for Nissan vehicles in Hawaii) three-month or longer wait for those who weren’t fortunate enough to preorder. The new “Z” is being touted by Nissan Motor Co. President Carlos Ghosn as the rediscovered “soul” of Nissan.

Ken Nishida, director of sales and marketing for Nissan Hawaii Motor Corp., says he expects that demand for the new 350Z will far exceed the supply for Nissan Hawaii’s allotment of 250 for the year. “It’s one of those cars that is truly a watershed car, because it’s what we would consider a segment-buster,” he says. Nishida says Hawaii’s sports-car segment sells about 340 units a year right now, but he thinks the Z is going to increase that segment to as much as 600 annually. It’s priced between $26,269 to $35,188.

The Z couldn’t have zipped out at a better time. Nissan Motor Corp. in Hawaii Ltd.’s sales for 2001 were $126.5 million, a 15.1 percent drop from $149 million in 2000. Nishida says 2002 sales as of August were up 27.3 percent over the same time in 2001. “When we look at where we are right now, this is the best that we’ve been in the past 10 years, probably the best that we’ve ever been since 1986 [when Nissan stopped selling Z cars in the United States],” says Nishida. “The dealers are really penetrating the market, doing a good job, and we are traveling at modern-day record levels right now for Nissan.”

Hawaii Z-club member and Z-car enthusiast Melvin Dunn signed up for his 350Z in April. In August, he was one of the first Hawaii residents to own one. “I liked the styling on the car, and I thought it might be a good investment for fun as well, as not so much profit, mostly fun, I guess,” he says. Dunn, a 54-year-old Hawaiian Airlines pilot, fits the profile of most Z-heads so far.

“A lot of customers were either previously [Datsun] 240SX or Z customers and that car went away, and now they’re all in a position in their lives where the kids are out of the house and a two-seater isn’t a drawback to the driving conditions they have,” says Bill Mickelsen, general sales manager of King Windward Nissan. Mickelsen says the Z is predominantly popular among drivers in their 40s.

Mickelsen says King Windward Nissan’s sales were 40 percent higher for the first three quarters of 2002, compared with the same period in 2001. Both Mickelsen and Nishida are quick to point out that Nissan sales increases for 2002 over 2001 are not just the work of the new 350Z. A new Altima sedan came out earlier this year and more new designs are on the horizon.

The Murano, billed as a “crossover SUV,” launches in December, and a new Quest minivan and full-size truck are expected next year. But Nishida says they are banking on the 350Z to be the Nissan brand champion.

“This is what we would consider our halo car. This sets the tone. This really sets the design and technological base for Nissan Motor Corp.,” says Nishida. “That’s the car that people would think of when you say, ‘Nissan.’”

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Kelli Abe Trifonovitch