Nissan has some clout in electric vehicles. The Nissan Leaf has flown the flag for electric cars almost single-handedly for more than a decade, and the same could be said for the eNV200 van. Yet, history counts for little in a fast-evolving sector that’s blossomed not only during the pandemic with home-delivery and e-commerce purchases but in the post-Covid recovery period. 

While overall van sales may have been down last year – from December 2021 to December 2022 there were 20% fewer registrations – demand is still there and were it not for supply chain issues, parity or even higher levels may have been seen. Nissan on the other hand had a torrid time in the UK where its sales for light commercial vehicles in the year were down 74%, comfortably the largest single loss by all manufacturers in the recorded registrations from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders. What was previously a modest 4% market share was slashed to just over 1% – behind Iveco and Maxus and marginally ahead of Land Rover – all three of which have fewer products to market. 

But perhaps therein lies both the problem and the answer. Nissan has been undergoing change and 2022 could be seen as a highly transitional year for the brand. In 2021, Nissan COO Ashwani Gupta told What Van about the company’s new “fourth phase” in its Alliance with Renault and Mitsubishi – a simplification of the principals of sticking to what each brand knows best. 

Nissan’s portfolio was trimmed and the well-known and well-liked, but by no means successful, Navara was dropped in what turned out to be a departure from the pick-up sector for several brands. Less celebrated models like the NT400 (better known as the Cabstar) were also shuffled out of the door less conspicuously. Throw in the component shortages experienced by all manufacturers and a relaunch of the names used for the entire Nissan van range in September 2021 and it’s little wonder that the visibility of the Nissan LCV range has diminished. 

According to Andrew Limbert, Nissan Europe LCV manager, the name changes were an effort to give the vans more character and personality, ditching the numerical patterns in favour of the previously used and recognised Primastar and Interstar badges while adding Townstar into the mix. 

Even more significant changes have been announced recently with a restructuring of the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance. Share allocations have been changed to give Renault and Nissan a more equal footing with Renault reducing its stake in Nissan to 15% from 43.4%. Renault will place around 28% of its Nissan shares in a French trust making the two more equal partners – a contentious topic since Renault bailed out the much larger Nissan in 1999. The two firms will then move on with a 15% cross-shareholding with equal voting rights, which once approved will improve the relations and strength within the Alliance. 

The next step has been to outline a roadmap to 2030 where the focus will be electric vehicles. Across all vehicle types it will see an investment of €23bn (£20.3bn) more being spent on electrification over the next five years. The result will be 35 new models by 2030. The overall aim is to simplify production, utilising common platforms. By 2026, 80% of the Alliance’s output will be on shared platforms, up from 60%, for 90 combined models. Of the 35 new models due by the end of the decade, 90% will be based on just five shared EV platforms. Included is the LCV-EV family platform that is the basis for the Renault Kangoo and Nissan Townstar.

There will also be a common battery strategy, with planned innovations and a production capacity for 220 GWh with hopes to reduce battery costs by 50% in 2026 and 65% by 2028. There will be further investment in solid-state batteries, with an aim to begin production by 2028, ultimately leading to cost-parity with ICE vehicles.

While much of the outlook is focused towards car production as well as the prospect of connected vehicles through the Alliance Cloud – where more than 45 models and ten million vehicles will be equipped with autonomous systems – the strategy for Nissan LCVs will be centred around their retail offer, meeting tougher emissions standards and catering for an increasing demand for last-mile delivery.

Although Limbert confirms those plans don’t currently entail a return to the pick-up truck segment for Nissan, there will be a renewed focus on smaller fleets and owner drivers. While Nissan has always enjoyed success in the fleet sector, Limbert believes new products like the Townstar are best targeted at customers who will appreciate the added technology like Around View Monitor, which is unique to the Nissan. 

While certainly not starting afresh, it feels like Nissan now has an opportunity to pursue loftier goals in the LCV sector. Could a revitalised range be the catalyst for growth? Only time will tell but the processes and products are falling in to place for that to happen. 

Nissan Townstar 

Nissan has finally launched its new Townstar, the compact van that shares most of its DNA with the Renault Kangoo and therefore the Mercedes-Benz Citan. Nissans of previous years have all too often been a badge-only replica of the Renault product, however, that modus operandi has evolved over time to now include revamped front ends (in the region of headlights and grilles), and modestly tweaked interiors. The Townstar EV goes a step further and brings some additional USPs to the table. 

In addition to a 121hp electric motor with 245Nm of torque, its 45kWh battery is good for a claimed 183-mile range and can charge at a rate of 80kW – enough to top up from 20% to 80% in under 40 minutes. There’s also a payload of between 600kg and 800kg with a towing capacity of up to 1,500kg and load volumes from 3.3m3 to 4.3m3. But where it really separates itself from its siblings is in the safety and tech available and the warranty support.

Active and passive safety systems include Blind Spot Warning, Hands-Free Parking, Active Cruise Control, Intelligent Emergency Braking, Side Wind Assist and Trailer Sway Assist. In total there are some 20 technology systems but it’s the introduction of the Nissan ProPILOT Assist which is really being trumpeted as the game-changer and Nissan USP. Along with Nissan’s Intelligent Around View Monitor (AVM), it’s the first step towards autonomy, combining cruise control with steering assistance. Factor in the now standardised five-year or 100,000-mile warranty that features across the LCV line-up and there’s a chance that a Nissan could now catch your attention. 

Name games

I’m going off topic for a moment, but I want you all to know that I have an astonishingly good ability to remember song lyrics. It’s rarely a whole song and heaven forbid you ask me to get in front of a karaoke machine, but certain lyrics (not necessarily the chorus) get trapped in my head. The reason I’m telling you this is that I’m going to admit that I’ve got more chance of reeling off Lou Bega’s list of lovers from Mambo No.5 than I do of remembering the model names in the recent Nissan line-up. 

Well, you might think they don’t come with a catchy tune, but remembering 90s song lyrics isn’t my profession and yet I’d quite easily tell you it’s Angela, Pamela, Sandra, Rita (and as I continue, you know they’re getting sweeter). There’s also Monica, Erica, Tina, Mary and Jessica, but I’m dammed if I could remember the Interstar, Primastar and Cabstar as well as the NV200, eNV200, NV300, NV400 and NT400. Then there’s the NV250. Did you remember that one? I didn’t until I came to research this article, which I think speaks volumes about Nissan. 

Names aside, the brand has become confused but I’m hoping their renewed focus will change all that. If not, I’m available for consultancy work and the newly named Nissan No.5 will be made my top priority. 

George Barrow is the UK jury member for the International Van of the Year Award. Additional reporting by Liam Campbell.