Ireland’s loss is Scotland’s gain.
It is early spring 2009, and Central Scotland is in the grip of an unexpected invasion. They came by the transporter load, unfamiliar little saloons and hatchbacks, unacknowledged by their Japanese maker. As I pounded the M8, M9, M90, and M74, I was briefly mystified – were they merely passing through, bound for another country? Nissan UK was glorying in a Qashqai-led purple patch – they had gambled the farm on an SUV for Focus / Astra money and hit the jackpot. What place was there for a nondescript and regressive basic transport tool?
If I’d been a keener reader of the nation’s red-top dailies, the mystery would have been solved sooner. Scotland’s largest car dealership chain had secured a job-lot of Nissan C11 Tiidas, originally intended for the Republic of Ireland, and now offered exclusively at tempting prices with an impressive equipment specification.
Had it been any other dealership, I’d have expected that a rap on the knuckles and a reminder of the terms of their franchise contract would have been delivered forthwith. In Arnold Clark’s case, I suspect complicity with Nissan to offload over-supply. Did somebody in Dublin click the order button before checking for an extraneous zero?
A visitor from another planet who touched down in Scotland would probably assume that the characters A r n o l d C l a r k signified the ubiquitous shiny things raised from the ground on four rubber propellers, such is the power and spread of the billionaire motor-trader’s organisation in the land. Among its specialisations is moving overstocks and distressed merchandise – there are still good zero-miles deals going to be had from Arnold, four years beyond the grave.
Unknown in Great Britain, the Tiida (Versa in the Americas) was a mainstay of Nissan’s global basic transport offering, on a 2600mm wheelbase version of the Alliance’s B platform, and built – or at least assembled – in Angola, China, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Taiwan, and Thailand.
In all probability, the Tiida, launched in the domestic market in late 2004, was never intended to be sold in Europe, but a bold product plan in which the lacklustre C-segment Almera was replaced outright by the Qashqai SUV from 2007, was considered to leave a damaging gap in markets with more traditional ideas of car morphology. Eighteen lucky nations* were on Nissan’s hit list. Sales ambitions were relatively modest – 30,000 cars supplied from the Civac factory in Mexico. (For comparison in 2009 Nissan shifted 180,468 Cashcows and 83,371 Micras in Europe).
When I saw my first transporter-load my first thought was Dacia Logan. There’s a certain similarity, and both are products of the same alliance. In many territories they perform the same function, but the link is coincidental, or at least limited to a few widely used Renault-Nissan Alliance components.
I’ll resist as far as I can commenting upon the styling. What we are now supposed to call the facia seems to have had some effort expended upon it. The rest is three-box basic in the extreme, tall, narrow and angular, but with the concomitant virtues of excellent visibility, access and egress, and interior space to footprint ratio. It’s easy to detect the embodiment of Carlos Ghosn’s “good enough” philosophy of offering products that deliver significant value for money to cost-conscious consumers.
Perfect then for those who fell for the exclusive Tiida’s superficial charms, typically just about managing small-town retirees, probably turning in a decade-old Micra or Corsa, and valuing dependability and low running costs above all else.
The equipment specification would have tickled them – it was way beyond what could be found in a sub-£10,000 car. The £8995 1.6 SE provided a CD player, Bluetooth phone connectivity, air conditioning, rear parking sensors and colour coded bumpers and mirrors. For £9495 the 1.6 SVE added climate control, a leather clad steering wheel, and cruise control. In December 2009, entry level for a Micra was £7995, for a Note the base price was just £10 short of £10K.
Only one engine type was available in Arnold’s bargain batch, the 1.6 litre HR16DE, an undersquare all-alloy four with twin overhead camshafts and variable valve timing, providing just over 100bhp, more advanced and powerful than might be expected in a basic transport tool in 2009.
Just how basic is demonstrated by the Versa’s US placing as a (just) sub-$10,000 car. In 2009 the USA registered 82,906 C11s. In the eighteen European sales territories the take-up was less than enthusiastic:
Perhaps that 2008 hump was the over-order. Going by the advert, Arnold’s cars were pre-registered in March 2009, from which point their three year warranty commenced.
The numbers sold by Arnold Clark are not known. 186,000 new cars were sold in Scotland in 2009, and at the time these new Tiidas seemed to be everywhere. Saloons outnumbered hatches – probably down to availability rather than consumer preferences. The spring 2009 job-lot was a one-off and sold quickly, buyers seemed unconcerned about future parts availability and orphan status.
Despite the exclusive Tiida’s ephemeral availability, twelve years on they are still a feature of Scotland’s carscape, which says something for the integrity of Nissan’s engineering and the functional virtues of the design.
* Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, Slovenia and Ukraine. In 2007 Nissan thought you were unsophisticated.