CORRECTION: An early version of this story made it sound as though the Versa would arrive as a 2020 model. It will be sold as part of the 2021 model year.
TORONTO -- Nissan Canada has reversed an earlier decision and will bring the new Versa subcompact sedan to Canada after all.
Company representatives had said that Versa would not make its way north of the border since April 2019 when the next-generation model was announced for the U.S. market. However, at the behest of Nissan Canada’s dealer council, executives changed their minds at head office, said company President Steve Milette.
“In the past, it was decided not to bring [Versa] in for the 2020 model year,” Milette said, adding that discussions about changing course became serious in late November and early December 2019. “We showed our dealer council to get their opinion and their advice as we launched Sentra. … We had an in-depth discussion, and they bought into it. They were actually the ones who requested that we bring it in.
“We went to Quebec City and Montreal because that’s where the bulk of the volume should come from. Part of our dealer council are dealers from the Pacific region and the Prairies, and even they were supportive.”
Milette said dealers were confident the Versa sedan would help retain customers coming out of the discontinued Micra and Versa Note, as well as discontinued subcompact products from other brands.
“One of the reasons is some of the domestic players are out of small sedans,” he said. “Many of our dealers are multi-franchise. They see the opportunity to retain their customers.”
In statement issued later Thursday, Milette added: “Nissan is not only fully committed to sedans, we are fully committed to customers in the entry-level segment."
Versa will be sold in Canada with the same powertrain specifications as in the United States: A 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine with 122 hp and 114 lb-ft of torque, matched to either a five-speed manual or a continuously variable transmission.
While few packaging details have been announced at this stage, Nissan Canada has said that four of the six safety technologies included in its Nissan Safety Shield 360 suite will be standard equipment on Versa: Intelligent emergency braking with pedestrian detection, rear intelligent emergency braking, lane departure warning, and high beam assist. Blind spot warning and rear cross-traffic alert, the other two technologies typically packaged with the suite, will be optional.
Milette said adding safety technology at affordable price points has helped to boost residual values on Nissan products.
“When we look at ALG [residual value awards], they’ve actually increased our residuals quite significantly,” he said. “The market is giving us the value for the technology that we’re placing in the vehicles.”
Combined sales of the Micra and Versa fell to 8,730 last year, compared with 11,802 in 2018, according to the Automotive News Data Center in Detroit.
There is another potential benefit to Versa’s Canadian launch: Due to the discontinuation of the Nissan Micra, the Nissan Micra Cup racing series will be held for the last time in its current format in 2020. With Versa’s price point and standard manual transmission, it could be a natural transition model to keep the series running. However, Milette declined to comment on this possibility.
“We’re not at that point in time yet where we can make formal announcements,” he said. “We see significant benefit in the motorsports affiliation. At the right time, we’ll be able to share new updates.”