JIN-293 -- Car Name Is Karma

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T H E J @ P A N I N C N E W S L E T T E R

Commentary on the Week's Business, Technology and Cultural News
Issue No. 293
Saturday, October 16, 2004

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@@ VIEWPOINT: Car Name Is Karma

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@@ VIEWPOINT: Car Name Is Karma

What's in a name? A lot. Just ask Japanese automakers, aglow with rosy
expectations for full-model changes marketed under spanking-new monikers.

Nissan Motor Corporation announced on October 14 the launch of Fuga as
the reincarnation of its popular Cedric. The automaker will also bring
out the Sunny under a new name later this year.

These days all major Japanese automakers are consolidating strategies to
build new customer bases through updates of brand image by retooling auto
nomenclature. Last month Toyota renamed the Gaia (now the Isis), and in
October 2003 Mazda brought out a new Familia under the name Axela.

Fuga is Italian for harmony and is also homophonous with the Japanese
word for elegance. The Nissan model has a V6-cylinder engine and body
parts including doors made of aluminum, such that it is more than 30
kilograms lighter. The Fuga retails in the 3,410,000 - 4,930,000
yen range. Nissan expects to sell 2,000-odd units per month.

The Cedric, for more than 40 years a synonym for luxury among Nissan
models, will become mainly the name of taxi cabs and other commercial
vehicles. Fearing the loss of a cadre of Cedric aficionados, some
Nissan execs opposed the name change. Their objections were swept
aside by President Carlos Ghosn.

The renaming of cars is driven by the diversification of consumer
preferences, as exemplified by the market entry of Sports Utility
Vehicles and mini-vans. For many years industry commentators spoke
of automobile sugoroku (Japanese-style parchisi) -- consumers advancing
from a compact in their twenties, to a midsize sedan, to
the goal of a large luxury model.

However, the comparison is no longer apt, what with a growing number
of Japanese buying big-ticket items like SUVs as their first vehicles.

Automakers are now exploring ways to build new customer bases. Explains
Toyota Managing Director Kyoji Sasazu: "If you fully remodel a car under
the same name, you end up selling it only to the existing customer segment."

In other words, under Fuga or any other name a fully remodeled Cedric
would appeal to a wider customer segment. Car name is karma.

-- Burritt Sabin

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Written and edited by Burritt Sabin (editors2@japaninc.com)


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