Almera

October 7 was a day of festivities and celebration as Nissan introduced the new Almera, the first eco-car sedan in Thailand. Eco-cars must have fuel economy of at least 20 km per liter of gasoline, have CO2 emissions no higher than 120 grams/km, and meet all international safety standards. The day began at the factory with an off-line ceremony to commemorate the Almera and ended with an invitation-only, public launch event at Siam Paragon, the most upscale shopping mall in Bangkok.

The Almera is Nissan’s new global B-segment sedan built on the V-platform that was introduced last year. The V-platform was designed to allow for either RH and LH drive vehicles, to accommodate both diesel and gasoline engines, and to meet worldwide crash test requirements. Nissan is manufacturing V-platform vehicles — currently a hatchback and a sedan — in Thailand, India, China, and Mexico with local content of 80% or more. Using localized parts is crucial for cost control, e.g., avoiding import tariffs and fees, and to minimize exchange rate risk.

The stylish, new sedan was launched earlier this year as the Versa in the U.S. and Mexico and as the Sunny in China and India. The vehicles are customized for the local markets, e.g., the steering wheel is on the right in Thailand and India but on the left in the U.S., Mexico, and China; to meet Thailand’s eco-car standards, a 1.2 liter, three-cylinder engine is used here while a 1.5 liter, four-cylinder engine is used in other markets; there is no need for a heater here in Thailand, but there is in other countries, etc. Nissan has announced that this car ultimately will be sold in over 170 countries worldwide. Indeed, Carlos Ghosn confirmed on Friday that the company will invest $1.5 billion to construct a new production facility in Brazil that will also produce V-platform vehicles beginning in 2014.

Friday’s events began with an off-line ceremony at the local assembly plant in Bang Na, southeast of Bangkok in the province of Samut Prakan. An award-winning high school band led 300 managers into the facility for the ceremonial roll-off of the Almera. First the president of Nissan Motor (Thailand) and Nissan’s COO addressed the crowd and then a bronze Almera was driven off the line and onto the stage.

High school band and Nissan managers gather before the off-line ceremony

Almeras lined up on final inspection line

Perhaps the highlight of the event was the unveiling of two Daruma and the painting of their eyes. A daruma is a hollow, round, paper-mâché Japanese doll that symbolizes perseverance and good luck. When constructed, the Daruma has two blank eyes; one of the eyes is filled in when a goal is set and the other is filled in when the goal is realized. When you see a one-eyed Daruma, you remember the goal and work hard to accomplish it.

Almera Daruma with blank eyes

Red Daruma with two eyes open (for March) and gold Daruma with one eye open (for Almera)

The corporate goal, of course, is to make our new vehicles a success in the marketplace. The left eye on the red Daruma was painted when the March was launched 18 months ago. Sales and quality objectives were reached (actually exceeded), and the right eye was painted in during the ceremony to recognized the accomplishment of the goal. The left eye on the new, gold Daruma was painted in to set the goals for the new Almera. When they are accomplished, the second eye will be opened.

After the ceremony at the plant ended (point A on map), the executives and key managers headed back to Bangkok for the model introduction to local and international media. Folks reconvened at the Four Seasons hotel (point B) where key executives and ministers from the Thai government spoke to the assembled media. Prices, options, and colors were announced and then TV spots for the Almera were shown. After a multi-media light and sound show, the vehicle was finally driven out from backstage. The press took pictures and video of the new car and then several press conferences were held so that executives could answer the media’s questions about the car.

Welcome to the Almera press conference

Nissan Almera, presenter Dome Pakorn Lum, and MC for the Dealer Conference

Later in the afternoon, most Nissan dealers arrived at the hotel for the dealer conference. While the dealers had test driven the vehicle back in July on a local race course, they had not received details on trim, pricing, and finance options. This information was provided to them at the conference. They also were introduced to the presenter of the vehicle, a very popular Thai actor and musician named Dome Pakorn Lum. At the end of the presentation, the dealers were able to get their pictures taken with Dome and key executives.

The day ended at Siam Paragon (point C on map) where hundreds of dealers, suppliers, business partners, media, and dignitaries had been invited to attend the public launch. As usual with car events in Thailand, a bevy of pretty girls were on hand to showcase the vehicles. After the covers were taken off the vehicles, a popular Thai band called ETC gave a concert. The events at Siam Paragon continue through the weekend with sales reps on hand to take orders for the vehicle.

Almera tent at Siam Paragon

Six Almeras on the cascade at Siam Paragon

ETC in concert at Siam Paragon

The car is the Star (or is it?)

Flooding

In the past couple of week, Thailand has been hit hard by flooding. Monsoons this year have been the heaviest in 50 years, and 60 of the country’s 77 provinces have been affected by floods and mudslides.

So far, over 250 people have died as a result of the floods, over 3 million acres of agricultural land have been damaged, and millions of fish in fish farms have perished. Rail links to the north have been shut down as have many highways. Water in the Nan River in the northern city of Phitsanulok has risen by 10 meters (over 30 feet.)

Ayutthaya, the old capital city that is about 50 km north of Bangkok, has been severely affected.  Flood waters surround Wat Chaiwattanaram, a 50o year old Khmer temple in the city. Last Thursday, 5,000 local prisoners were evacuated through chest-high water to buses that transported them to other jails.

Thai prisoners being evacuated

Wat Chaiwattanaram in Ayutthaya

While the flooding has not yet affected Bangkok, the water is on its way since the northern and central rivers drain into the Chao Phraya which, in turn, empties into the Gulf of Thailand after it runs through Bangkok. The government has placed sandbags around the river and many canals, it has deployed 400 pumps to push the water into the sea, and it is rapidly digging seven canals outside the city in an attempt to divert some of the water. October 15-17 are supposed to be the worst days as incoming storms and high tides exacerbate the water coming down from northern and central Thailand.

One way to deal with the flood

Go Sabres!

Kop Khun Krab.

© 2011 Kurt Brown. All rights reserved.

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