America isn't Ready
Posted 02 February 2009 - 06:59 PM
We were standing in an empty room. Empty except for four GT-R SpecVs and a few representatives from Nissan. They appeared innocent, but I knew better. I recognized one of the guys at the door, he was a VP. The force was strong in the room. I wouldn't have been surprised if they had just gotten back from active duty at a nearby secret test track.
The classroom lecture was over, but for me the learning session was still in progress. I had one question that still needed an answer. Although they seemed to be interested in wrapping everything up, the young Jedi didn't interrupt, and Kazutoshi Mizuno, Jedi Master, the man responsible for the modern GT-R, didn't hesitate to answer my question.
"America is not ready" he said.
His response was direct, delivered with the same expression and tone as if he were explaining the physics behind the construction of the car he created. I looked over at the three SpecVs we were standing in front of...
It was our first full day in Tokyo, and already things were more productive than I'd hoped. We were in Nissan's Headquarters in the Ginza district. Usually this temple contains samples of Nissan's finest works. They line two sides of an immaculate first floor. Today though, the area was closed, and over half of it was converted into a classroom and learning center. On one side there were maybe fifty chairs in front of a plasma display, a white board, and a shimmering purple “Ultimate Opal Black” R35 GT-R SpecV. On the other side there were three additional SpecV's: two in Ultimate Opal Black and one in the new Brilliant White. We had arrived early, before most of the press and before the presenters, so I started to look around.
At first, nothing looked all that special about the Ultimate Opal Black SpecVs. But as I walked up, the colors started to shift under the bright fluorescent lights. Parts of the car became copper while other parts went to bright purple. From some vantage points, I could see all shades at once. Then there was the carbon fiber. It's used in the rear wing, brake ducting, and on the top of the front bumper. It's very matte in appearance with excellent weave quality. Standing in front of a SpecV GT-R, particularly in the new white- which has a little less yellow this time around - the full appearance was conservative but still what you'd hope a SpecV to look like. Business. On purple, the scheme works less well, but the pearl effect and color shifting makes up for it, giving the car a very special and unique presence.
Walking through the learning center that had been setup, one could see all the components of the SpecV fully laid out, from the carbon bodywork samples to the wheels, tires, and brakes. One of the displays featured the SpecV's exhaust in all its glory. A lot has been said about this exhaust, but in person the quality and sheer attention to detail are stunning. I'd seen most GT-R exhausts on the market. And while all have their pros and cons, it was apparent that this is an exhaust that could stand as a work of art. Indeed it looks as if the construction of this exhaust received more attention per foot than most get in their entire design.
This level of attention to detail was also visible on the braking table, where Nissan laid out the front and rear SpecV rotors. Next to them were the steel rotors from the GT-R as well as a sample from the new Fairlady (370) Z. Picking them up, the SpecV's rotors were significantly lighter, as one would expect. Nissan’s worked with Brembo to do extensive R&D to ensure that this braking system can be used effectively in the real world. On display was an example of this: one of the rotors had a probe mounted, which in turn was connected to a computer. The setup allowed a service technician to efficiently and accurately check the condition of the rotors. It worked by sending a sound wave through the rotor and plotting the return. Since the rotors were setup for maximum return at 910Hz, any return that is different from the pattern expected would be indicative of rotor damage. Given the fragility of carbon rotors, and the high operational expectations being placed on them, it would make sense.
Walking behind the displays and approaching the fully built SpecVs, I couldn’t help but be impressed by their presence. While the base R35 already carries an image of strength, the significant yet subtle tweaks to the SpecV add a lot to that, especially in the colors presented. With all of the cars unlocked and an open invitation to examine them fully, I pushed open the door handle and climbed in…
Sitting in the SpecV, the first thing that stood out was business like feeling in the cabin, created from the subtle effect of Nissan using darker trim pieces. The next significant difference came in the seating. As the SpecV carries the same seats from the Nismo ClubSport, you sit in a set of Recaros that are both more comfortable and better bolstered - particularly in the lower back area. The business themed approach runs through to the back of the cabin where a heavy cloth material drapes over the area that once housed the rear seats. It was said that the design was actually inspired by military aircraft. In person it looks better than in pictures and as a whole the interior works quite well. As I started to relax in the comfort of the SpecV’s Recaros, I noticed a bit of movement and activity across the hall. Mizuno-san himself had arrived. The official presentation was about to begin.
The SpecV video ran, and moments later Kazutoshi Mizuno, project lead and head of the entire GT-R program, took center stage and started to speak. We learned that the general theme of the car was improved performance in a track-focused fashion. Whereas a typical GT-R is a car that may only see occasional track use, this car is designed to spend much more time on circuits. As such, it was designed to be faster in that type of environment, and not necessarily on the streets. This is very important to note, as it not only represents a contrast between the GT-R and many of its competitors but also explains Mizuno-san's view on a major issue with enthusiasts - the car's straight line speed. One might wonder then, how exactly have Nissan made the SpecV faster?
While the SpecV is built on the revised Series II GT-R platform, Nissan fully revised the suspension and braking components. Many might think this was an easy task, but in truth, it wasn't. The development of the car, like the base GT-R, was conducted worldwide. It wasn't a quick job either. In fact, development on the SpecV began in the early days of the GT-R's design process. The idea was to search for a new specification that could work exceedingly well on the track but still retain streetability.
While the result of this R&D would weigh slightly less than a base GT-R, the key performance benefits came from a revised suspension, wheel, and tire setup. These modifications would translate into the ability to carry significantly more speed through turns. Meanwhile, the braking upgrades would to allow the car to consistently brake later while an overboost function would improve corner exit via an improvement in mid range torque. Although the base GT-R was already a capable machine, the SpecV aims to make it even more efficient.
Some might think that these sorts of improvements can't possibly yield a significant gain in overall performance. While that might be true in certain cases, this is where the significance of Mizuno's goals comes into play: he made it to be faster on the most challenging road courses in the world. As a result, the benefits of the SpecV’s improvements can really be seen on courses such as the Nurburgring, where improvements in traction, stability, and other aspects of performance can become more important than raw power gains.
The net result is a car that is definitely quicker than the base GT-R on the track. But by how much is it faster? Mizuno-san wouldn’t say.
Like its competitors, Mizuno-san wants the SpecV to be exclusive. He drew parallels with all of the cars Porsche currently builds. He even referenced F cars. Perhaps he has a right to, as Nissan only intends to build one SpecV per shift- about thirty per month.
Among enthusiasts online, the general consensus seems to be that the SpecV isn't worth it.
To be sure, Mizuno-san is aware of the sentiment being reflected here. During the SpecV presentation Mizuno-san stopped following the powerpoint slides and broke out a white board. On it he started noting P cars, F cars, and the GT-R. He showed how much money the cars cost and the approximate Ring times. Needless to say, it was a powerful table. Especially considering the fact that the GT-R is more usable than any other car on the board in every day driving.
Still though, the majority view is that the SpecV is overpriced. The logic is that, at 15.75 million yen, it works out to be priced over $170,000. Too much money, most say. I disagree- such an assessment would not be accurate and one would be negligent to come to that conclusion without considering the other factors that come into play when comparing prices between markets.
Over the last year, the Japanese Yen vs US Dollar exchange rate has fluctuated wildly. Along with it, the pricing relationships between Nissan's Japanese and US cars have changed as well. Today the price of a premium GT-R in Japan is 9.24 million yen. That's over $100,000. The MSRP of a Premium GT-R in the US is only $79,000. (And the US price doesn't include tax.) The SpecV then, can't be seen as a $170,000+ car. If one instead viewed the SpecV's price as a percentage premium above the Premium edition GT-R, it actually becomes a $130,000 car.
That would put it even with an optioned Porsche 911 GT3 here in the US. Since the 911 Turbo carries a base MSRP in that range, that makes the SpecV cheaper than a 911 Turbo since base 911 Turbos -without any options- are rare. On a relative basis, looking at the SpecV’s pricing within its own market, there's even more value: it's being offered at a 20% discount from the base price of a 911 Turbo in Japan, and it's even being sold for less than a C4S!
You read that correctly: In Japan, a SpecV costs less than a Porsche 911 Carrera 4S.
On this basis, the SpecV cannot be considered overpriced. Especially given the alternatives in Japan, or when the equivalent US pricing puts it at a 911 GT3.
This is something everyone seems to miss.
After the presentation, I found myself in the back of the presentation area, shooting the cars when I happened on Miznuo-san.
There were two reporters walking with him, asking him questions, in Japanese. The hall was emptying out, as most were satisfied with what they heard. I hadn't noticed as I started to listen to Mizuno-san. He was explaining something about the wheels to them, and content, they bowed and turned to leave, leaving me alone with Mizuno-san. I thanked him for the presentation. As always, he bowed - which I returned.
[In between the tech talk and jokes he often throws in, he shows a deep level of respect and humbleness to all present.]
One question that had been on my mind regarded the roof of the GT-R. What were Mizuno's thoughts on modifying the car with a carbon roof?
He started to explain then stopped abruptly. He signaled for me to follow, and we walked up to one of the Ultimate Black Opal SpecVs. Without hesitation Mizuno-san raised his hand and violently began slamming on the roof of the car. It caught me off guard. Surprised, I took a step back. "Reinforced" he said.
I nodded. Mizuno-san then proceeded to point to all the points on the car where the body and chassis were reinforced. He described how the forces impacted the roof of the car. He explained that the structural rigidity of the car would be compromised if the roof were simply replaced with a carbon fiber panel.
I then asked Mizuno-san why the car was called SpecV, as opposed to VSpec. His answer?
Intellectual Property issues.
And then I had to ask. "Will it be coming to America?"
He had mentioned the US several times in his presentation, but I wasn't surprised by his answer. I wanted him to elaborate and hold no punches: "What are your thoughts of the American market?"
"America is not ready." He responded.
He went on to say that, essentially, the quality of service and support in the US for the SpecV simply isn't there. When it comes to machines like that, the US isn't up to par with the rest of the world. In Japanese, I told him that I understood, and wanted him to continue. He did -to a point, but stopped.
The point was taken. The SpecV will be sent to Europe, the Middle East (in left hand drive no less), maybe even Australia, but not the US. I’ll say what Mizuno-san couldn’t: He wouldn't be turning it over to the same people that can barely handle the base GT-R. He wouldn't be sending it to a place where a secondary market was waiting for it. He wouldn’t be turning it over to a company that would let it sit at the ports for month while the premium Ultimate Opal Black paint got eaten away, while customers were left in the dark. He wouldn't be leaving it in the hands of service staff that might scratch $30,000 rotors - requiring replacement - and blame it on the customer. And he definitely wouldn't be reading any lies regarding his transmission from communities with few intelligent owners and many internet mechanics.
I've been told that every day Mizuno-san reads through all GT-R warranty claims and associated data. But despite his attempts at being a good father, many Japanese tuners don't like Mizuno-san’s policies. They are upset with what he's done to their brand.
Among those in the know, it's a commonly accepted view that the SpecV is able to run with the fastest factory cars to ever hit the Ring. But as quickly as they acknowledge this they tell you how little they care. The Ring, they feel, doesn't really represent the street, or even every track. Then there's the tuning issue.
A little over a year ago, at the original R35 GT-R's introduction, I asked Mizuno-san about modifications, to which he expressed a strong view that the car shouldn't be touched. Being the new GT-R president, he's used the full power of his administration to control the GT-R market. This includes restricting access to key GT-R replacement parts such as engines and transmissions. It has even gone so far as to prevent tuners from bringing R35s to events such as the Nismo festival. Rumor has it that his feelings go further, impacting everything from the very way Nismo handles the GT-R to the reason why we don't have a blue GT-R.
So while they say the GT-R and SpecV are indeed fast on the Ring, they question the greater significance of it and resent what he's done to the community that's given meaning to the administration he now presides over.
And while the enthusiast community's opinion of him in the US is likely to decline, and many are less than thrilled with how Nissan North America is handling the GT-R's presence, I'll take the risk of holding a minority view. I'll go out on a limb and state that I can't blame Mizuno-san.
It’s important to remember what the GT-R is. It's a new approach to going fast. It achieves speed through efficiency. In building the GT-R, Nissan has broken down what it takes to achieve a record pace and then built a car that is capable of achieving speed in the most effective ways possible. While the GT-R has a lot of brute strength, it is truly fast because it offloads the things that would otherwise slow the man/machine combination down. That is, it uses technology to improve performance in the key ways that are necessary for lower lap times in challenging conditions. It's a new approach to the term supercar. And most impressively, due to the way it was built, you can drive it anywhere and at anytime. You can even leave it with people who are less than skilled drivers to take care of in your absence. The GT-R achieves all of this because it represents a new way of thinking.
But a product of this new way of thinking requires a new way of thinking to properly sell and maintain it. Until now, that's been a great challenge for Nissan North America and its partners. Perhaps it’s due to the worsening economy. Perhaps it’s due to a lack of experience. Regardless, GT-R's have sat at ports for months. Owners have stood in the dark while Nissan has decided to not offer any assistance. This is changing, but slowly.
Nissan North America wasn't ready for the GT-R.
Then there's the dealer network. In 2007, when the rate of global economic growth was at its peak, GT-R hype was at a feverish level and the production numbers being circulated were surprisingly low. At that time, Nissan's dealer network thought it would be best to take maximum advantage of the GT-R's arrival. Call it capitalism, call it the American way, call it what you will, they thought it best to mark up the car beyond the highest level they thought could sell, in an attempt to find the maximum price the market could possibly bear. The pricing structure was beyond what would really sell but they were OK with that, being of the belief that the number of GT-Rs they would receive would be limited regardless of what they did. Nissan North America asked them not to mark up the cars beyond reasonable levels, wanting to see the cars on the roads. Their response? ‘NNA can’t tell us what to do.’ Dealers accused Nissan of attempting to price set, and noted that such activities were illegal. They then colluded to set their own prices. Some even attempted to black list local owners who bought GT-Rs out of their region.
NNA thought that they could announce a low allocation for the US market, sell all of them, and consume the victory of announcing an increase in allocation due to strong demand for the car. It was a good plan, but the success story wouldn't be written.
Instead of electing to get GT-Rs on the road at real market prices and making revenue on service and potentially added sales from a happy, new type of customer, they elected to get the most they could at the moment. It was a short term strategy on a large scale, not unlike what the regional bank mortgage writers were doing. They said they had to do it because they weren't selling enough cars. They said it was finally their turn to "get theirs".
Nissan dealerships weren't ready for the GT-R.
Then there's the customer. Nissan, NNA, and partners intended well. They knew this was a new type of machine. Back in 2004 Nissan received complaints from G35 owners regarding the unusual sounds that the Brembo brakes made. When customers learned about the maintenance costs and requirements they were even less happy. They received even more complaints on the vibrations that could be felt in the shifter. Eventually Nissan "refined" the car and removed the Brembo sourced brakes. But that isn't an option with the GT-R, so Nissan did their best, having customers acknowledge that the car may feel, sound, and ride, and need maintenance in ways that differed significantly from other cars the customer may have experienced. But it wasn't enough.
Some didn't bother to break it in. Others drag raced it off the lots until it broke. Then, when the warranty claims were denied, lied about how they treated the cars, creating an army of misinformed enthusiasts on the internet and nearly overnight changing the enthusiast community's view on Nissan and the GT-R. Meanwhile Nissan, bound by privacy obligations, couldn't tell the other side of the stories from the black boxes.
Then there's the third market. If the dealers made a second market, the customers made a third on their own. The few dealers that were selling near market prices were seeing their cars be resold by customers. Many of these cars went on e-bay if not overseas.
That's not to mention the owner's expectation. Not only did they not believe what Nissan had said on operation, but they also didn't believe Nissan on maintenance.
Nissan has a high incentive to ship the GT-R with the right type of fluids and components. Intentionally using fluids that could damage the cars would increase Nissan's liability on warranty claims at the minimum and could easily expose them to law suits or even undermine the entire brand name. Nissan has had years to develop the car with the best partners in the industry. Yet despite that, many do not trust Nissan and are trying any number of replacement components and fluids. How many motors will be bench tested and torn down for inspection following the use of various grades of oils? How many transmissions will be tested in this fashion? How many companies are releasing full data on their products and are truly transparent?
The GT-R's spirit is not one of happenstance or accident. It's one of continuous refinement, of science, of engineering, and high ethics. This is not how the US market has been handling the car and is definitely not how the aftermarket is responding.
Instead, the approach is a traditional one. Terms coined in other car communities are automatically being applied to the GT-R. Owners are asking for stage 1s, BPUs, and packages that don't exist. And tuners, stuck in a worsening economy with the sudden discovery of an eager market with money, are responding anyway. Few are 'sure' why they're building the parts they are, but they're hard at work anyway. It's gotten to the point where those who are 'less sure' of what they’re doing are now copying the work of those who are certain.
Neither the customers, nor the aftermarket, are ready for the GT-R.
So parts are being developed and sold to fix problems that no one is having and replace parts that were in no need of replacement. By and large, the key issues the aftermarket needs to see resolved aren't being addressed. Few are doing the sort of R&D that the GT-R requires to truly be improved upon.
And then there's the enthusiast community as a whole, which suffers from division and disorganization.
While he didn't get this explicit, these realities aren't lost on Mizuno-san.
Fortunately, there's hope. There are a few tuners who have been quiet, analyzing the GT-R to look for areas where perhaps Nissan was limited in expense or time. Areas where the enthusiast might benefit, areas where improvement is merited. There are dealers who are receiving GT-Rs not to play games with, but to sell. There are dealers with service departments that would make the FAA proud. There are individuals within the ranks at Nissan who are working very hard to ensure a smooth distribution, accepting the bitter customer's hate mail as a result of holding cars out the hands of a support market that isn't ready. There are the people at NNA, now working to keep customers appraised of the status of ordered cars. And there are happy owners, who are sharing their passion for the GT-R with everyone they come across.
Maybe Mizuno-san knows that as well, and perhaps that's why he also said
"Maybe in a few years."
Nissan's FY12 Progress Report - Open Letter to Nissan II
R35 GT-R Launch @ TMS07 - SpecV Launch "America Isn't Ready" - NAGTROC Visits Tochigi
Posted 02 February 2009 - 07:20 PM
Seems like all were here prior to the GT-R carrying on the same way so could it be the opposite? Nissan didnt make the GT-R for the world they were subjecting it too? I'd dare to say there are more problems outside of US than in US but no dealerships in many places and less media coverage. I don't like that he took a shot at pretty much everyone. I thought the original goal upon release of the GT-R was to be the fastest on the ring, has that now been thrown out and they "don't care"?
Posted 02 February 2009 - 07:20 PM
Man that new SpecV color is CRAZY in one pic it looks chocolate brown, in another like brickyard, and in one like grape....freaky. If they did a blue shaded version that changed color like that or like Ti did then I would be all over it
"Bring whatever you like to the party. The GT-R will blitz it. It blitzes everything." Clarkson
Posted 02 February 2009 - 07:43 PM
Sharif Abdelbaset | GM | Calibrator | Driving Instructor
498 Cobb Parkway South, Marietta GA 30060
Forged Performance will meet or beat any competitors pricing!
Posted 02 February 2009 - 07:44 PM
Mizuno does carry some disdain towards the typical US consumer, behind the typical polite and humble front he puts on. Honda marketing/engineering guys in Japan had the same attitude regarding the Type R cars, especially the NSX-R.
I know the American Nissan employee who struggled real hard to get the Nismo products to the US market; it took a long time and some strong $ arguments to change their mind. In all cases, the Japanese think "less" of us and really believe we do not deserve their best technology.
And then there is the legal aspect and dangers of the US scene. Look elsewhere on this forum for a thread on a new lawsuit. That stuff does not help....
Edited by Roadrunner, 02 February 2009 - 07:46 PM.
Posted 02 February 2009 - 08:14 PM
Zele Authorized USA Dealer
Amuse Authorized USA Distributor
Posted 02 February 2009 - 08:59 PM
Edited by d-pak, 02 February 2009 - 09:00 PM.
Posted 02 February 2009 - 09:08 PM
As for the assumed $130,000 price if it were in the US I still think that's over-priced unless it was very limited in which case it doesn't matter because of it's collector status/value. But breaking it down it's $56,500 (+77%) more than the sticker on my GT-R and I don't see anywhere near that much extra car in the V-Spec. The floor mats thrown over the holes where the rear seats were was a nice touch too
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