Anthony ffrench-Constant on why the Nissan Micra needs a name change

Published: 23 March 2011

Jif to CifMarathon to SnickersOpal Fruits to StarburstUlay to Olay… And, boasting such an wholly absurd name that I have absolutely no idea what it might once have been called or, indeed, what the hell it does anyway; Cillit Bang (the missus tells me it’s a grooming product for tidying the nether regions of those toy dogs with curly tails which keep their rectums on permanent display, but I suspect she may be lying).

Anyway, for reasons that are entirely beyond me, it has clearly become something of a tradition that a company altering or expanding the market of a favoured product is obliged to change said product’s name… Perhaps Jif has overtly scatological connotations in Armenian? Can no one in Kazakhstan pronounce Marathon? Is it terminally insulting to call someone an Opal Fruit in Bucharest?

Naturally, conspiracy theorists put such name changes down to an excuse to downgrade the quality of a product through the use of inferior ingredients. They will aver that Opal Fruits were juicier than Starburst, that a Snickers bar sports a lesser peanut density per bite than the Marathon. Indeed, I myself am quietly convinced that Oil of Ulay tasted far better than its replacement…

If they’re right, then, and this is the case, then can I be the first to lobby as strongly as possible for an immediate name change for the new Nissan Micra?

Because – interestingly, at a time when the head honcho at Hyundai has categorically declared that the world car doesn’t work and he’ll be overseeing the continued creation of market specific models as usual – a recent drive suggests that Nissan has flagrantly exploited the metamorphosis of the Micra into a world car as an opportunity to produce a machine that is inferior in every way to that which it replaces.

Now, I make no bones about having rather warmed to its predecessor. To ensure that it oozed Japanesity from every pore, Nissan cunningly had it designed by a member of the Porsche family abetted by a peculiar Dutch woman with a pussy. Siamese, of course.

Quite how the roles of chief designer Chris Reitz and 'trend forecaster' Li Edelkoort gelled is unclear. But I do remember thinking it a treat to finally hear talk of homespun, rather than European, influences in a Japanese car. Even if that equated, essentially, to little beyond dashboard textures related to tatami mats and a magnolia paint finish to gear knob cheeks plus stereo and air-con buttons evoking tea ceremony ceramics.

And, let’s face it, though there's something of the medieval beggar's complexion about the bodywork – surface boils housing indicators, tailgate hinges, rear number plate light and a boot release button harder to find than the G-spot – the outgoing Micra, with its chirpy, Digimon cartoon face, undeniably gave great cute.

Unlike its replacement, which has all the design flair of a startled cardboard box, the interior quality of the Lebanese-run Hotel Copenhagen in Brussels which I recently had the honour of sharing with bedbugs the size of jelly beans, and the powerplant of a loud, sit-upon lawnmower.

Don’t get me wrong here; I understand the raison d’etre. With the most lucrative markets in the world now represented by countries where they still point at aeroplanes rather than manufacturing them, I fully accept that we in Western Europe must rapidly get used to the idea that we can no longer enjoy our long-standing status as the automotive industry’s customer yardstick.

Why go to the expense of developing well made, elegantly styled, high quality machinery when what is suddenly your biggest market has, to date, been happy with an unsprung open cart trudged along by a brace of flatulent oxen, wherein any semblance of an interior whatsoever is something of a bonus… or, at best, a Honda 90 step-through ‘motorcycle’ of the kind favoured by TV’s James ‘Bakelite’ May?

No, what really gets me about the new Micra is the protestations by the Nissan product wallah I met when I turned up to drive the thing that they’re ‘proud’ to be offering this new car at some sort of price parity with its predecessor.

Worse car, same money… Proud? Go – as our American chums would have it – figure. I wouldn’t mind so much if Nissan at least admitted that, from a European perspective, this is a properly inferior replacement and, as such, will be several thousand pounds cheaper (as, of course, it actually will be in India, China, etc.).

Moreover, in time honoured, new product market tradition, perhaps they might re-christen the poor thing to reflect its new-found global appeal… Something, perhaps, beginning with Datsun?

In the absence of either proposal being adopted, however, I suggest you all biff off and try the gently superior and far less expensive i10 from Hyundai.

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By Anthony ffrench-Constant

Contributing editor, architect, sentence constructor, amuse bouche

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