Car Culture

Despite flagging sales, Nissan CEO Ghosn says sports cars still matter 'for the storytelling'

In the face of mushrooming SUV sales and the coming autonomous car, CEO says Nissan remains committed to sports cars.


Take a 10,000-foot view of today's auto industry and you can't help but notice that, at least in terms of sales and mindshare, SUVs and trucks are firmly in the driver's seat. Seemingly lost in the shuffle is the sports car segment, which has been battling declining sales and interest for years. Despite the genre's ebbing fortunes and the industry's wholesale rush to develop autonomous cars, Renault-Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn still believes sports cars are important.

At a Thursday afternoon media roundtable at the Paris Motor Show, I asked Ghosn what the future of the sports car is for both the car business and for Nissan itself. While he doesn't forecast robust sales ahead, he took pains to highlight the importance of such models "because they are flagships. They are a testimony of technology and of the brand."

Part of that is due to the fact that "premium cars and sports cars probably represent 90 percent of the media coverage, even though they represent 10 percent of the sales of the industry," said Ghosn. Altimas and Rogues may ring Nissan's cash registers, but they don't often net magazine covers and generate monster clicks on YouTube. In other words, while sports cars may not be vital to most automakers' bottom lines, they remain critical for brand image. In Ghosn's words, "we're going to continue to develop sports cars because it's so important for the storytelling."


CEO Ghosn introduces the IDX concept (foreground) and BladeGlider EV showcar at the 2013 Tokyo Motor Show.


At the moment, Nissan's sports-car picture isn't encouraging. It's presently peddling the elderly 370Z (nearly eight model years old), and while recently refreshed, the Japanese automaker's range-topping GT-R has been in production since 2007. Nissan extended driving enthusiasts a promising olive branch with its back-to-basics IDX sports coupe concept back in 2013, but rumors of a production run proved unfounded.

Ghosn declined to detail any future model plans, but development on the next-generation GT-R is rumored to include a hybridized powertrain in addition to the coupe's trademark all-wheel drive. There appear to be no near-term plans for a Z replacement or an affordable sports car.

Given the aspirational, cover-model "halo car" nature of premium sports cars and the potential for higher prices to better offset the high cost of vehicle development, it's perhaps more likely that the future of the sports car is not in attainable models like the 370Z, Mazda MX-5 Miata and Subaru BRZ, but instead in smaller-volume, higher-MSRP specialty models like the GT-R, a car that has sold just 455 examples in the US through August.

"When people come here to the showroom, they go to see the sports car, they don't go to see other cars. This is part of our industry, and we need to take care of it," he said.