Buzz Building: Nissan brings back Z with 'significant' push

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Nissan North America's Z sports car, retired since 1996, comes roaring back this summer.

Nissan's 2003 model 350Z hardtop coupe goes on sale in mid-August, though the marketer has been hyping its return for over three years. Nissan showed a Z concept car at the New York auto show in spring 1999.

The Z sports car made its debut in the 1970 model year as the 240Z, a "halo" car for the brand. Its $3,500 sticker price made it an affordable sports car.

The Z's sticker rose with its sophistication as the years progressed until it finally exceeded $40,000, priced out of many prospects' range. In 1996, only 2,074 were sold. Still, it's retained a cult following and Nissan is targeting sales of 30,000-plus this year, mostly to male buyers.

The car's ad launch from Omnicom Group's TBWA/Chiat/Day, Playa del Rey, Calif., isn't due until September, said Fred Suckow, senior marketing manager for the car at Nissan. While the ads aren't finalized, the sports car's heritage will be incorporated into the push, which will also tout the Nissan brand. The car will get a "significant" ad blitz, he said, but declined to give specifics.

`deja vu all over again'

Nissan spent $425.6 million in measured media last year vs. $488 million in 2000, according to Taylor Nelson Sofres' CMR. Through May, Nissan said it sold 280,275 vehicles, or 8.6% more than it did during the same period a year ago.

"Deja vu all over again," Mr. Suckow said about the car at a press presentation in suburban Detroit a few weeks ago. The line is also used in a media brochure for the 350Z. But he said that isn't the car's tagline, noting launch ads will likely only carry the Nissan's "driven" umbrella tag.

Nissan has been trying to create a buzz for the 350Z since last year, when it put the concept-car version in Sony Playstation's Gran Tourismo video game. Sony added the production car to a new game only sold overseas now.

TBWA/Chiat/Day created 350Z banner ads that ran in the first quarter on sports and news Web sites. In the first 30 days of the effort, 50,000 people clicked onto the banner ads, picked a color for the car and printed it, Mr. Suckow said.

As of last week, more than 7,500 consumers have, without a test-drive, pre-ordered the car at dealerships (Zs aren't in showrooms yet), he said. Some have only seen photos of the 350Z. All those people get a "black envelope" direct mail, done by Chiat Direct Partners, confirming their order. Last week, the agency mailed them another piece with the car's specifications, which includes horsepower, torque, wheel-base dimensions and coefficient of drag. Nissan has also held breakfast meetings with the early buyers in Houston, Atlanta and Cleveland so they can see the cars.

The suggested retail price of the new Z ranges from $26,809 to $37,187, including delivery charges.

`spirit of nissan'

"The Z is a logical kind of flagship for the brand since it reflects the spirit of Nissan," said Dan Gorrell, VP of auto consultancy Strategic Vision. The marketer's other recent models are also following the same brand themes-performance, style and fun.

Mr. Suckow predicted Nissan will get most of its volume from consumers moving up to pricier models. The Z's competitors he cited are all more costly: BMW of North America's Z3, American Honda Motor Co.'s S2000 and Porsche Cars North America's Boxster. Other challengers he didn't mention include Mazda North American Operations' Miata, Ford Motor Co.'s Ford Mustang, Mitsubishi Motor Sales of America's Eclipse V-6 Spyder and Toyota Motor Sales USA's Toyota Celica.

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