Nissan Goes Virtual To Intro New Z Version

EA game-Nissan Nissan is launching the next version of its Nissan Z sports car virtually. While the flesh-and-blood 2009 370Z will be unveiled on the L.A. Auto Show stage, the gaming masses will see it in Electronic Arts' "The Need for Speed: Undercover." The game, which goes on sale in the U.S. and Europe next month, has players engaging in street and freeway battles and evading the fuzz. It's for Xbox 360, PlayStation, Wii and Nintendo.

Robert Brown, senior manager marketing communications, says the idea to put Z in a game before it hits real streets "came up during the process; basically it's desirable for both parties [Nissan and EA] to have our performance cars in the game," he says. "When we started talking about maybe blowing out this partnership it became clear it would work out." He says Nissan will launch its own co-branded digital campaign to promote the new car and the new game.

According to Brown, the gaming audience is "exactly right" for the Z. "They have the right mindset; they love sports cars, the latest technology, and they like to push the limit." He says that when Nissan marketers matched the Z target with the driving gamer, there were similarities. "We saw predominantly male, 30- to-35-year-old singles," he says, adding that 50% of driving gamers are 25 and older, and 20% are 35 and older.

Brown says that for many buyers, the Z is primary transportation. "There is a bi-modal target: younger guys without families and older guys who have finished those responsibilities." He says for the 30- to-35-year-old target, the Z would likely be a primary vehicle, and for older buyers, a second car.

The two-seat specialty-car and four-seat sports coupe segments of the market have been hit hard by the economy. Sales of the current-model Z were off 56.3% last month versus the month last year and 41.8% in the first nine months. Sales of Mazda's Miata sporty car were off 39.2% last month and 21.4% for the year through September. Sales of Mazda's RX-8 were off by over 40% in the first nine months.

If one includes four-seat coupes like Mustang and Infiniti's G35, things are not improved. Sales of Mustang, off 52% last month, have dropped 28% year-to-date; Infiniti's G coupe saw sales drop 55% last month and 35% through September.

But Brown is bullish on Z's position in the segment. "The sports car segment is not immune to today's conditions--but the Z, with its heritage, is a category killer, and we will maintain share and do great things," he says.

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