I wrote the first two parts of this letter at the same time, several weeks ago at this point, and now that I've had some time away, I'm wondering: Am I being too hard on Nissan? Am I expecting too much? Maybe this last part will bring a little more clarity.
Let's start with Godzilla. In the mostly-impossible case that you've never encountered popular culture before, Godzilla is a Japanese monster created in the 50s. A prehistoric dinosaur-like monster who is accidentally awakened by humanity (usually as a result of something related to nuclear weapons) and sets about wrecking shop in various impressive ways. Indeed, the American release of the first-ever Godzilla movie was subtitled The King of the Monsters, a nickname that helped to elevate Godzilla into the pop culture Thermosphere. It was this "King of the Monsters" nickname that Nissan won for themselves when they introduced the Skyline GT-R to the racing world in 1990. A note about naming here: Nissan has used a few different combinations of Skyline and GT-R in various versions of this same car, some of which took the title of Godzilla, some of which didn't. This would normally lead to confusion. However, REAL FANS refer to these cars by their chassis designations, which usually appear in the form of R##, with the first Skyline GT-R being called the R32. I'm going to use these designations for clarity. Also, here's a picture of the R32:
Check out this timeline: The road version of the R32 was originally released in Japan in 1989, and the Nismo version followed soon after, with both models ranging between $30,000 and $35,000 American. Due to the homologation regulations of FIA's Group A, building a road-going Nismo version of the R32 allowed Nissan to get specific pieces of the car's highly specialized all-wheel drive system (which would shift all power to the rear wheels on corner exists) race-approved, along with the four-wheel steering and complex twin-turbo engine. Starting in 1990, the on-track results instantaneously canonized the R32: It won all 29 races in Japanese Group A. It won at the 24 Hours of Spa. It won at the Nurbergring. It dominated the Australian race circuit, winning the Bathurst 1000 in back-to-back years. In fact, the R32 was so dominant in racing the world over that the FIA did away with Group A entirely in 1993. Nobody outright says the R32 was responsible, but nobody was worried about competitive balance in Group A before the R32 appeared on track, so...
What you'll notice is that I didn't name a single American race in that list. That's because the R32 was never raced or even released in America. No derivatives of the R32 were ever brought to America either, and due to the 25 year import law, only now can you see R32 Skylines driving on American roads. I've finally seen one in the wild, and it is a sight to behold. Of course, it's hard to tell now what is hyped and what is reality, but I can tell you that this car looks big on the road. It looks imposing. It looks every inch a Godzilla. Hell the R32 I saw was literally broken down on the side of the road, and I was still blown away at how good it looked. Words cannot describe the pure lust this car generates the world over. Heck, there's a company out there that uses their status as the first company to legally import an R32 to the US successfully as their primary selling point.
The next generation R33 Skyline was born into big expectations, and it mostly met them. It continued to be a solid race performer, but people don't lust after the R33 they way they do with the R32 and R34. Again the car was stuffed full of technology and performance, and again it was a very good car, but it was not quite the same. That didn't matter. The hype train was already in full effect, and a slight downturn in race results would not dampen car culture's flaming desire for Godzilla, which was - by the way - now also fueled by the Buy-To-Win R33s in Gran Turismo. A fun fact, that terrible Godzilla movie with Matthew Broderick in it came out in 1998, the last year of the R33's production. Coincidence!? Yes!
For Nissan and for car culture, it all came together in the R34. This is the Skyline that I already posted a picture of in the Sentra edition of this blog, but it's worth posting a second picture here:
YEP. THAT car. If you were alive in 2003 then you already know what it is. It's Brian O' Conner's car from the opening scene of 2 Fast 2 Furious. It's a car so played out it's actually cool again. It's the R34, and it could just be the most Hypebeast car in all of existence. Again, this car was never released in America. Again, this car was a popular culture icon. Just read this weird, dripping wiki article! They're listing the brand name performance mods on a fictional R34! There was a short film made about this car's origins, and it appears on-screen in 2 Fast 2 Furious for less than the duration of the entire short film. It's been 19 years since this car came out, and it's still the gold standard of performance in every video game it's featured in, and it's featured in damn near every single one. Do you get it yet? Do you understand the impact these cars have had on car culture at large? Tuners, race fans, even oldheads, everybody either loves or hates this specific car. The R34 represents pretty much everything to everyone: affordable performance, a dream car, the ultimate modded ride, the hated ricer that won't stop winning, and all of those things are also chasing the dragon, because you still can't legally import one of these cars. With the R34, Godzilla was bigger, badder, and back, but this time he came for the streets.
And now, the twist.
The R34 GT-R Skyline went out of production in 2002, again never having touched American shores. Actually, I have to take part of that back, because we're at the downward spiral part of this story, and I have to tell it right. Having taken 11 years to understand what they had created, in 2001 Nissan finally deigned to notice that Americans were lusting after the R32 and indeed the Skyline name. Quickly, using no more than 1/6 of a percent of their brains they jumped into action, and promptly took a giant, watery, cornfed shit all over the bed. America got a Skyline. Oh, did we ever get a Skyline. While the R34 was still in international production, here's what the US got:
No! Wait! It gets even better!
That's right, laugh it up you Datsun-ass jerks. While the rest of the world was rejoicing in one of the most iconic cars of all time, the US got...whatever THOSE things are. Originally called the Skyline, this car would eventually be known as The Official Car Of Going In Blackface To Halloween Parties, or the Infinity G-Series. If you've made it through the previous two blogs, then you recognize what's happening here. You know that this is what Nissan does, only this time they saved Americans the trouble and just never bothered to release the good car here before backhanding us with the bad one. Oh how I wish that was the end of the story.
The R34 has a true successor. It's still around today. It even came to America this time. Nissan realized how badly they botched the Skyline thing, and so for the R35, they ditched that name and just decided to go with GT-R. Witness now the newest iteration of Godzilla:
And what a monster it is. This car was originally released in 2007, and instantly because both a sensation and a legend in its own time. Why? Because the car cost around $68,000 - exactly the same cost in 2007 dollars as the previous R32, 33, and 34 when adjusted for inflation - and it was faster around a track and off the line than many cars costing more than two or three times that price. The R35 wasn't just a budget supercar, it was a budget hypercar. Built in hermetically sealed factories, each R35 is meticulously hand built. Even though they make just one engine for the car, they quote a range of horsepower. Not because any package has more, but because each engine made has slight variations in the horsepower due to slight flaws in the manufacturing process. Each R35 is custom tuned around these manufacturing flaws. This car truly is the wet dream of people with JDM tattoos. Not only that, but it has usable back seats. You could use the R35 as your daily driver, and then take it to the track and destroy a man in a Ferrari. Basically everything Corvette owners pretend they can do with their cars, you can actually do with an R35. Even if the R32 hadn't earned the Godzilla moniker for this line of cars, I believe the R35 would have won it handily, it is that impressive on its own. And yet this is the twist portion, so nothing that's good can stay that way.
First, the reality of the R35: Nobody daily drives this car. Nobody takes it out in the winter. Nobody takes this car to the track unless they're going to watch racing. Listen, I get it! This car is an achievable masterpiece, and therefore when people buy it, they make sure to park it in their garage and cover it with a dust cloth, hoping it will appreciate in value. Nobody buys this car to use this car. They buy it very specifically to NOT use it. And by the way, R35s aren't going to appreciate in value for a while. Why? The R35 is still on sale today. Here's the second part: Let's do a quick check in on the current MSRP: $99,990. Hmm. In 11 years, the MSRP of this car has increased a mortifying 47%! That number pushes the boundaries of belief, and there can only be one explanation for this staggering increase: Nissan was using the R35 as a loss leader.
Of course, loss leaders aren't inherently bad. Pricing very nice things down so lots of people will buy them is a common tactic employed by companies to pull people into a brand. You know, the tool is on sale for $75, but the blades are $50. You take a loss on an item that has narrow margins to begin with so you can make more on something with wider margins. Is this an evil practice? Hell no! That's capitalism, baby! But it's wrong for Nissan to use the R35 as a loss leader, because it's incredibly deceptive. Nissan has NOTHING AT ALL towards which they can drive people who are interested in the R35. By telling people about the manufacturing process, by building this car to break records at the Nurbergring, by creating the GT Academy to get actual gamers behind the wheel of a R35 race car, Nissan was very carefully crafting an image not only for this model, but for their entire brand. And what was behind it? Nothing. It's all misdirection. The mass market cars that Nissan was making while they built themselves up as a performance-oriented budget superstar were the cars I covered in the last two blogs: They crapped out anemic, pathetic Sentras. They introduced a trendsetting hot crossover that the entire segment is STILL chasing and then they killed it off instead of redesigning it. They killed the Xterra. They false-started an Infinity performance brand - TWO times. They brought out the 370Z, an even uglier and more asinine version of the also-ran 350Z. They named a truck after this emoji: xD. They abjectly failed to strike any kind of deal with Renault to brand-engineer or even co-develop any kind of performance vehicles across the world.
Tell me, does that brand, the brand that made all of those missteps, the brand that killed off any merest hint of budget performance in their entire lineup, does that brand deserve your loyalty? No, they do not. Are they ever coming to save you, the car fan, from tedium? No. They are not. Does Nissan have anything at all to offer people who like cars? Not anymore. To answer my own question from the opening, No, I'm not being too hard on Nissan, they've done this to themselves. Even more meaningfully, they've done this to their own customers, and they aren't going back. Nissan isn't worth waiting for. As time goes on, they only do less for people who like cars. And I'm done with it. I'm done with Nissan, and you should be too. And it's sad, you know? Because I'll always love the old Godzillas, I'll always want a Sentra Spec V, and I'll always wish that everything coming out of Nissan was better. Well, let me rephrase that: I'll always wish that everything coming out of Nissan was as good as their history shows they can be. Thanks for reading. Next week, you'll hear from somebody else, which I'm sure will be a welcome change.