- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 24, 2004

Although there are well over 300 different vehicle models available to buyers in the United States, that is just a drop in the bucket to the hundreds and hundreds more that are offered across the globe.

Many vehicles we have here are also available in other countries. But, there are more vehicles on sale in the United States that came from those other countries. The point I am making here is that we have a limited view of what type of vehicles are out there in the rest of the world.

Now, I am not about to get into an esoteric dissertation about the perceived limited view we Americans may or may not have. That particular conversation would take far too long and a conclusion will never be reached. However, in my travels to the far reaches of the world while covering the automotive industry, I get to see what others are driving.

Nissan recently reversed the circumstances on me and a few of my counterparts in the news media. Gathering us together in one place, they could expose us to various selected Nissan vehicles from around the world. It was an exercise to see what we thought of various designs and styles.

While there were many examples of the cars, trucks and vans Nissan offers here in North America, I let them sit in their parking spaces.

After all, I can drive these cars anytime. What I don’t get the opportunity to do is slide behind the steering wheels of those Nissan vehicles sold in Japan, Europe and other countries. To my surprise I found a couple of vehicles that I enthusiastically encouraged Nissan to consider bringing here.

With the ever-changing world we live in today, particularly the inordinate rise in gasoline prices, we must not rely solely on automobiles that have served us well in the past. Principally in the urban setting, we can no longer depend on the usual type of vehicle our parents drove. Yes, these vehicles will always have a place, but not in the mainstream of daily transportation.

Nissan showed us one vehicle that stood out to me, and they were kind enough to allow me to take it for a drive. Not only did they allow me to drive it, they encouraged me to put it through my usual testing procedures. So I jumped in the little Micra and off the two of us went.

That’s right, as the name suggests, it is a small car, and I mean small. The real surprise came when I offered to give two of my media friends a ride and took the car for a climb up into the hills. The Micra, as it is called in Europe, carries the name March in Japan. But whatever you call it, this little car merged into traffic alongside large luxury cars at freeway speed without a hiccup. The little Nissan climbed steep hills and handled twisting country roads with nary a complaint.

Astonishingly, this little car’s small compact turbocharged diesel engine impressed the heck out of everyone. In fact, most of the drivers returned from their drive with no idea that a compact diesel engine sat under the hood of the car. Most small diesels, at least the ones we have experienced here in the United States, are slow, uncomfortably slow, not easy to live with and slow. The Micra shows us that this does not have to be so.

With the present technologies, these are now engines we should consider as an alternative to the high-tech alternatives such as hybrids. Diesel power is a technology that is here now, has been proven on the road for years and could help bridge the gap between the development of new unproven technologies and real alternative power sources.

I am not one who throws my support toward one trendy mode of transport after another, but the Nissan Micra is a whole other situation altogether. This vehicle is available right now. It could alleviate, on a small scale at least, our dependence on foreign oil. And, looking at the big picture, isn’t that where we want to be headed?

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