Nissan Australia has confirmed it will not renew its contract with Kelly Racing to compete in the Australian Supercar Championship, exiting the series at the end of 2018 after six years in the game.
It has been known for at least a year that Nissan had been in discussion on whether it would continue with the series, but the change in leadership last August – when Australian Richard Emery was replaced as CEO by Canadian Stephen Lester – may have been the final nail.
Last year’s exit of the previous-generation Altima from the Australian market would also have been a key factor in the decision, but today’s news may also signal a decision to skip the new Altima sedan revealed in March – leaving Nissan Australia an almost entirely SUV- and ute-focused brand.
The announcement also puts paid to any speculation that Nissan might instead embrace the championship’s new Gen2 rules by fielding a racer based on the ageing 370Z or GT-R coupes – as Ford has opted to do with the Mustang.
It is understood Kelly Racing will continue to field V8-powered Altima sedans in 2019 on a privateer basis, despite having scored just two wins in five years.
In a press briefing with media today, Nissan Australia CEO Stephen Lester said the decision was not made lightly.
“We took a long time to come to this decision, and clearly we’re sitting here partway through the season – it wasn’t an easy decision. Since my arrival, we’ve taken stock of the market and what our core priorities would be. What the opportunities going forward would be, and this decision is based on that,” he said.
During the call, lester revealed that the company views SUVs and EVs as a greater priority than motorsport – at least for now.
“We have taken the position, from our standpoint for direction of the brand, that we see much stronger alignment around SUVs, Nissan Intelligent Mobility (autonomous driving technology) and the EV space as being much a more appropriate direction locally”.
“It does not mean that we don’t see value in racing, but we need to take a step back in our approach to motorsport and how we can best make that fit with our future objectives.”
Lester would not speculate on any potential for the new Altima to come to Australia, making it two months since the vehicle was revealed without any word for local potential. Thus, on the question of new-generation sedans, Nissan joins Honda in the ‘no comment’ camp (with the new Accord still no closer to local showrooms).
There may, though, be at least a glimmer of a hope that Nissan will not give up on conventional passenger vehicles: “As product plans go, it is somewhat of a fluid process… my personal preference is that we not actually abandon passenger cars.”