Economy in scale

This week I could be writing about the most significant car to be launched in South Africa for the next 37 years. Okay, perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself, especially when you consider I’m referring to the new Nissan half-ton bakkie, the “fetchingly” named Nissan NP200.

This replacement for the stoic, 37-year-old 1400 bakkie or “Champ” is one of a kind as Nissan South Africa has been tasked with conceptualising and producing a half-tonner to be sold globally to emerging markets.

The NP200 has a daunting­ legacy to uphold — one that saw the old 1400 sell 275 000 units over its illustrious lifespan. But more rele­vant is its significance in Nissan’s global model roll-out.

Nissan’s corporate vice president for global light commercial vehicle (LCV) sales, Andy Palmer, said at the launch of the NP200 this week that over the next five years Nissan plans to launch 60 new models globally, 13 of which will be LCVs, the first being the NP200. That is one model every month for the next five years!

The NP200 has a no-frills, no-fuss simplicity and doesn’t offer the nostalgic charm of its 1400 predecessor. All other contenders in this market — Ford Bantam, Opel Corsa Utility and Fiat Strada — understand that, although aimed at small business owners as smart investments, half-tonners are also affordable purchases for first-time buyers. So style does count.

But what the NP200 has going for it is the “important stuff”. Its 800kg load-box capacity puts it well over its “half-ton” tagline. It’s also class-leading in load-box length (1 807mm), width (1 374mm) and depth (535mm) and offers an additional 300litre load capacity inside the cabin. Eight tie-down brackets on the load-box edge and six on the rubberised floor are unrivalled­ in terms of practicality.

Under the NP200’s bonnet lies a 1,6-litre, 64kW and 128Nm motor that outstrips its entry-level 1,3-litre and 1,4-litre Opel and Ford competitors. The eight-valve motor is unique to the NP200 and, though lacking in sophistication, delivers usable torque low in the rev range, thanks to customised gear ratios, and claimed healthy economy in the top two gears. The NP200 is so new off the production line that acceleration and top speed have not been tested.

The real surprise comes in the NP200’s road presence. The ride is solid and steering is direct. Most impressive is the panel fit and integrity of the chassis and body shell. It is robust, rugged and devoid of wind noise. The entry-level NP200 does not have airbags or ABS brakes, but these will be available on future medium and high-spec models.

Nissan is launching this entry-level model at a well-priced R88 900. Better spec models will follow in good time. And considering its predecessor’s 37-year production run, Nissan knows this NP200 can be introduced one step at a time.

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Ray Leathern
Guest Author

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