A blue 2022 Nissan Qashqai is shown from the rear after leaving a Nissan dealer.

Nissan Is Sneakily Plotting to Dominate the Canadian Car Market – And It’s Working

Why does Nissan have the competition running scared? In the past few years, the popular Japanese automaker has completely revamped its entire lineup. From the subcompact Kicks to the behemoth Armada people mover, every car, truck, and SUV sitting at your Nissan dealer is fresh and updated. Within the lineup, a few hidden gems await your discovery, including the all-new 2023 Z, which starts at a surprisingly wallet-friendly price.

The new Frontier midsize pickup beckons truck buyers to abandon the Big 3 American brands once and for all and makes a solid case for why it’s time. With the Frontier, you can transition from the ‘burbs to a weekend in Calgary one month, then scoot off to Banff the next. The new Frontier gets it right, with enough panache to earn an appreciative stare from the valet guys and the grit to look just as good covered in mud and dirt.

Little SUVs like the Rogue aren’t immune to the global refresh, either, and with trendy superstars like Karine Vanasse hawking the brand all over Canada, the cool association has never been quite so acute. Will Nissan ever achieve elite status symbol levels? Probably not, but as a mass market, volume brand, Nissan’s recent strides have connected with buyers on a visceral level, and cars like the Altima and the Pathfinder have never been cooler.

The Rise of the Nissan Brand

Nissan cars can be found in 191 countries, including right here in Canada. In recent years, the automaker was overshadowed by more dominant nameplates like Honda, which gave it a sad sort of “hey, look at me!” little sibling vibe. Canadian drivers looking for a bit of street cred looked elsewhere for years, but slowly, Nissan has shaken off its afterthought status and become an aspirational brand for many buyers.

Nissan’s mission is all about building vehicles that benefit “people, transportation, and the environment.” It’s a lofty goal, but one that’s showing up in its latest crop of new models, including the affordable, fuel-efficient Qashqai. This little crossover SUV offers a fuel economy of up to 8.0 L/100 km combined. With a plethora of standard safety and convenience driver-assist technologies, the Qashqai makes a strong case for buyers with long commutes.

It’s fair to say that the Nissan renaissance is well underway, and the likes of Honda and Toyota are well-served to prepare for a stealth attack. Every vehicle in the new Nissan lineup contains advanced safety and driver-assist technology––and more than any other mass-market Japanese automaker, Nissan infuses each vehicle with a one-two punch of sportiness and elegance. Viewed from a high level, it’s easy to see the chess moves, but unsuspecting competitors might be caught off guard by how well-prepared Nissan is for market dominance.

A blue 2022 Nissan Altima is shown from the front driving on a city street.

Evidence of Dominance

The pandemic wreaked havoc on the supply chain, causing a ripple of sales dips across most nameplates. However, a closer look at the numbers supports an interesting narrative. In the first half of 2021, Nissan enjoyed a 5.8% market share, while Honda had a more robust 7.5% slice of the pie. Flash forward to the end of 2021, and Honda’s share had dipped by 0.2% year over year, while Nissan saw a 0.2% increase in sales.

Some would argue Nissan weathered the supply chain disruptions better, but as of June 2022, Nissan is within 13% of Honda’s Canadian sales volume, a statistic industry watchers never anticipated. The data reveals a slow, steady increase, meaning sales aren’t spiking due to one particular vehicle launch; instead, every segment is seeing small gains. Nissan reported a 250.4 percent increase in Pathfinder sales, and the Sentra, Altima, and Frontier all trended up in the first half of 2022.

Many buyers want vehicles that don’t look like their neighbour’s humdrum vanilla crossover or a coworker’s rental car-inspired sedan. Here is where Nissan dominates. The automaker’s focus on sleek, slightly aggressive styling appeals to these buyers. The difference is evident––all you have to do is park a Nissan Altima next to a Honda Accord or a Nissan Rogue next to a Honda CR-V. Sculpted angular lines transform practical cars into lifestyle statements while still ticking all the necessary boxes for safety, fuel economy, and reliability.

What’s Coming Next

The latest crop of new Nissan models includes the not-so-new Z, a reimagined sports coupe bearing a classic nameplate. Z fans are rightfully protective of the Z’s legacy, but even the oldest of old-school zealots will find a lot to celebrate about the newest version. It all starts with the performance numbers: 400 ponies by way of a 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6, mated to an old-school 6-speed manual gearbox and geared for plenty of low-range torque. The four-trim lineup includes models with performance extras, like a limited-slip differential.

Looking for an EV that doesn’t look or drive like an EV? The all-new 2023 Nissan Ariya is already sold out in its inaugural year, which isn’t surprising. It boasts a max 482 km extended driving range, front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive, and clever extras like a power-sliding centre console, quick-charge ports, and an array of the latest safety and infotainment technology. Nissan also adds common brand features to the Ariya, like its signature Zero Gravity front seats.

Pathfinder lovers are probably already aware that Nissan’s popular midsize SUV recently received a ground-up redesign. However, the limited-run Rock Creek trim is a fresh addition to the lineup, targeted squarely at off-roaders. The Pathfinder Rock Creek works for soccer practice carpools and grocery store runs, but the standard all-terrain tires and off-road suspension beckon explorers. Cool stitched badging adorns the interior, along with weather-resistant seating surfaces that look like cushy leather.

A close up of the front of a bronze 2023 Nissan Ariya is shown.

Should You Buy a Nissan or Wait?

As the Nissan brand slowly erodes Honda’s market share, buyers are at a tipping point: trust the less popular brand, or go for the known entity. Considering your vehicle is a five-figure investment, no one would fault you for making the more conservative choice. Still, data doesn’t lie, and Nissan is creeping up on Honda in a meaningful way. Reliability ratings are essentially even, and Nissan’s competitive vehicles in every category stack up in other key areas, like fuel economy and performance.

With that in mind, a better question might be, why wouldn’t you choose a Nissan? This applies even more to buyers looking to escape the drudgery of vanilla styling. Nissan vehicles are pretty. They’re elegant, too. Best of all, something lurks just under the veneer––an animalistic quality that hints at aggressiveness. Nissan has something to prove, and the current lineup’s razor-sharp styling is our first indication of how it plans to go about it.

The new lineup taps into Nissan’s extensive racing history for inspiration. Since 1967, Nissan has torn up the track, showing respectably at Le Mans and winning several titles in the early days. The adrenaline-soaked Fast and Furious franchise thought enough of the Nissan Skyline GT-R to feature it in five of its films, including the original. Cult favourite Kill Bill: Vol. 1 featured a 1991 Nissan Fairlady Z, driven by Uma Therman. Will your Nissan come with the same cache as these souped-up versions? Probably not, but at least you won’t be driving a boring Honda.