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Nissan bets on new driverless sports car to heal image after Ghosn scandal
[TOKYO] Nissan Motor Co unveiled a new version of its Skyline sports sedan, adding the carmaker's most advanced autonomous driving technology, as well as design elements shared with models like the GT-R sports coupe.
The car, Nissan's first major product debut in Japan since the arrest and ouster of former chairman Carlos Ghosn, will let drivers take their hands off the wheel on highways, and also offers connected services.
Nissan is facing enormous pressure to revive its business following a car inspection scandal, the exposure of poor corporate governance practices and a year when it earned its lowest operating profit in a decade. Hiroto Saikawa, chief executive officer of the Yokohama-based carmaker, is spending the equivalent of about US$440 million in the next three years to introduce more than 20 new products and refresh core models.
In the Skyline's case, the refresh partly takes the form of a return to tradition. A previous iteration of the car, released in 2013, was sold in the Japanese market with the Infiniti emblem, but some fans missed the classic Nissan hood ornament. That's been restored on the new model.
In a separate move, Nissan decided earlier this year to move its Infiniti luxury car division back to Japan from Hong Kong, integrating it with global design, research and development and manufacturing functions. The move was a reversal of Ghosn's strategy to position Infiniti closer to China to tap the market's growth, which enjoyed limited success.
Ghosn, arrested in November in Tokyo on allegations of financial misconduct, is free on bail as he prepares for a trial that will probably start next year. The former chairman of the alliance between Nissan, Renault SA and Mitsubishi Motors Corp, has denied all charges against him.
The hybrid version of the new Skyline, available in two and four-wheel drive versions, will include Nissan's latest version of ProPilot as a standard feature. The autonomous technology offers lane-changing and driver monitoring functions. A mobile connection will let an operator contact occupants, as well as offer updated maps and in-car Wi-Fi.
In an attempt to capture some of the magic of the GT-R, which was spawned from earlier versions of the Skyline, the new sedan has a front grille that resembles the front of Nissan's iconic sports car. Additionally, the petrol-only Skyline features Nissan's 3.0-litre V6 twin-turbo engine, with a tuned version capable of 400 horsepower.
Although the Skyline is one of Nissan's flagship models, the carmaker expects to sell only about 200 of the new vehicles per month, given waning demand for mid-sized sedans. The cars will sell for between about US$45,000 and US$52,000, depending on the model.
Outside of Japan, the Skyline is sold as the Infiniti Q50 and competes with sedans by Daimler AG's Mercedes-Benz and BMW AG.