All-new Nissan Sunny for China market first
While the younger generation of Malaysians will probably know the Nissan Sunny as one of those cars their parents used, the older generation would remember the model as having been an utterly reliable, economical small sedan. Its predecessors from the mid-1970s to the early 1980s – just before the Proton Saga appeared – were the best-selling cars in the country, accounting for the majority of Edaran Tan Chong Motor’s (ETCM) sales.
The earlier models were sold under the Datsun brand which was used before the brand name was made similar to the corporate name. It is said that one reason for changing to ‘Nissan’ was that the company’s senior executives were frustrated when they visited foreign banks and introduced  themselves as being from ‘Nissan’ and got an indifferent reception. However, when they said they were the ones who made the Datsun cars, then things changed because the product’s brand name was well known in the marketplace.
Anyway, back to the Sunny story. The model had actually been known as ‘Sunny’ in Japan but for some export markets like Malaysia, it was sold as a ‘120Y’. It was only in 1982 that ETCM used the Sunny name along with the change to Nissan branding. That model change was also significant in that it marked the switch to front-wheel drive.
Had the Saga not appeared on the scene at a lower price than the Sunny, it would probably have continued to be the nation’s best-seller. In 1983, as the best-selling car in the country with 22,362 units sold, it accounted for 25% of all new passenger cars registered that year. There were two 1.2-litre versions (sedan and stationwagon) and a 1.7-litre diesel, priced between RM19,800 and RM21,850. Very cheap but back then, you could also get a brand new 3.8-litre Mercedes S-Class (assembled in Malaysia) for RM125,000! (For the latest 2011 Nissan pricelist, click here)
Many people who owned the 120Y and then the Sunny found it was so cheap to maintain and those who kept it long would tell friends that all they had to do was just put in fuel and change the tyres; even maintenance was minimal. In fact, there was the story of one owner never having had the engine oil changed for years.
The 1983 Nissan Sunny was sold in Malaysia for 13 years until 1996. These pictures show the very first version but later ones got some cosmetic updates. Behind those thick bumpers were two shock absorbers!
The Sunny was a simple car typical of Japanese sedans of that era but it did have one special feature: shock-absorber bumpers. Behind the plastic cladding for the bumpers were two shock absorbers (at the back as well) and these absorbed low-speed impact forces so that the rest of the car was not damaged. The idea was not new as Volvos had them for some time and they were probably installed to meet US safety standards. In those days, ETCM, being the top brand in Malaysia, had a lot of clout when negotiating with Nissan on specs and probably managed to get the US-type bumpers for its locally-assembled Sunny.
Though the Sunny was never able to regain a No. 1 position again, it would remain on sale in Malaysia for 13 years. Nissan did come out with follow-up generations of the model but ETCM felt that the name was also ‘old’ and, in the mid-1980s, it embarked on an ‘image-up’ exercise to lift itself out of the ‘cheap car’ image. This led to the introduction of the Sentra (N-series) in 1987 but the Sunny (B-series) remained available till 1996.
There is a story that one of the government agencies (concerned about any threat to the National Car) approached ETCM to find out how they could sell the car so cheaply, well below its rival, the Toyota Corolla. For one thing, it was an old model and it became a cheap car for ETCM to assemble as the original costs were amortized and there was virtually no marketing cost. So it could be sold very cheaply and managed to get enough sales each year to keep it going.
So while the Sunny to Malaysians seems to have disappeared somewhere along the way, it actually never did in Nissan’s line-up. In fact, it has been on sale in Singapore all this while. It’s a bit hard to say what generation it has reached as Nissan’s product development saw merging of platforms and model series and in some places, the N-series had the Pulsar name. Even Nissan people were confused at one time as there were different model names used for the same model in various countries.
The Sunny has always been a global model for Nissan so the launch of the new Sunny generation at the 8th China (Guangzhou) International Automobile Exhibition attracted much interest. The model has only been in China since 2003 and has become popular, and this new generation is significant because it is the first model to be introduced by the new Dongfeng Nissan partnership.
The new Sunny’s styling appears to have a different theme from all the recent models we’ve seen, except for the grille. It has a fairly upscale design and looks to be quite roomy within. Few details are available from official materials but it is known that it will be powered by a Nissan 1.5-litre HR15DE engine mated to an Xtronic CVT. This powertrain combination is a familiar one but it may not be the only one offered in all the 170 countries that Nissan will sell the Sunny in. The HR family (jointly developed with Renault) also has other versions, among them 3-cylinder 1.2-litre units, one of which has a supercharger.
Will the new Sunny come to Malaysia? ETCM officials, as usual, smile when asked the question and never give an answer. But given that the Sentra is rather old (still a decent car for those who don’t need the latest and greatest), it is likely that ETCM will take the new Sunny and badge it as a ‘new Sentra’. There’s no point reviving the Sunny name since it would not mean anything to the new generation of buyers and could even be negatively perceived (“that’s the car my Dad drove, no way I want the same thing!”). This sort of thing often happens and that’s why you see some models taking on extra names on their badge, eg the old Bluebird has ‘Altima’ added to it and after a while, people referred to it as the ‘Altima’. This enabled the model to leave behind its dated image and continue to appeal to younger buyers.
To know more about Nissan models currently available in Malaysia, visit

Many new Nissan models have been launched in Malaysia since Edaran Tan Chong Motor began representing
the brand over 50 years ago. Click here to view those launched between 2001 and 2010.
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