The new Nautica SUV which was launched on May,09 signals a new phase in te evoltion of Perodua. The name seems appropriate since 'nauticca' is actually derived from 'nautica' which means bring to sailing into uncharted waters and Perodua is now going into new territory since this company established 15 years ago. This is the first time that Perodua is importing the model that completely built-up unit from Japan, a move that critics say is a departure from its original mission and aso not appropriate for a national car company.
The reason why Perodua has chosen not to make the Nautica locally is that the potential sales volume is insufficient to justify the investment that would be needed. Basically, the SUV segment is no longer as large as it was 10 years ago when the Kembara was launched. Consumer preferences have changed and last year, more MPVs and pick-ups were sold than SUVs. So the SUV segment is not substantial and even the best-selling SUV, the Honda CR-V, only averaged about 443 units a month in 2007.
Perodua estimates that the successor to the Kembara would draw about 200 buyers a month at most and while making 2,400 units a year locally is possible, the question is whether it will be worth the investment and whether it will be a CKD assembly approach or manufacturing (which means stamping body panels). There are companies which do assemble less than 3,000 units a year but their plants are geared towards smaller volumes than what Perodua today produces.
What many do not realize is that Perodua, after 15 years, is no longer comparable to the other assembly plants in the country; it has evolved into a full-fledged manufacturing operation with an annual capacity of 250,000 units. In fact, even from the start, it was already manufacturing rather than assembling because it was stamping its own body panels, an aspect of the car-making process which requires high investments and therefore high volumes. Over the years, further investments in more advanced equipment for more efficient, higher quality manufacturing and increased automation have all taken Perodua to a point where it can no longer do small volumes.
Nautica is a larger vehicle in all ways: 160 mm longer wheelbase, 240 mm more length, 140 mm more width and it even stands 25 mm taller. The larger platform has allowed the wheels to be pushed further apart, which is better for stability. The centre of gravity is lower as the width-to-height ratio of the Nautica is 1.02 whereas for the Kembara, it was 1.10. Of course, the larger body means more metal and glass and its not surprising that the kerb weight has risen to 1200 kgs, about 10% heavier than the Kembara.
Although the Nautica is derived from the Daihatsu Terios/BeGo, its looks are not 100% identical if you look closely. The grille, with its Perodua badge, is an obvious difference but compare the front bumper of the Terios with the Nautica and you will see that the Nauticas is bolder. To provide a bit of differentiation, Peroduas designers reshaped the bumper a bit and this meant that the bumper had to be made locally (along with the grille). The rear bumper is also made in Malaysia and incorporates reverse sensors from a local supplier.
One thing which people dont appreciate is the colour-matching of the bumper to the bodywork. Both parts are done separately and usually in different facilities so the fact that you cant see a difference in the colour between the bumper and the body is evidence of how well the matching is done. Add to this the fact that the paint used is also different because the bumpers are of a smoother plastic material and not steel.
Nauticas 4WD system also comes with a Centre Differential Lock (CDL) which, when activated by pressing a button on the dashboard, locks the front and rear axles so they rotate at the same rate. If unlocked C the normal mode C the wheels on the front and rear can rotate at different speeds to compensate for slip and surface conditions that vary grip. This is important to avoid excessive wear as a locking them can cause some wheels to be dragged along. Thus it is important that the CDL be used only in very difficult situations, ie very muddy ground when the Nautica is stuck, to ensure that equal torque goes to each wheel to get whatever grip is available. Not many small SUVs have this feature and not many people understand it either!
Moving inside the Nautica, it will be immediately evident that it is very different from the Kembara. The earlier SUV was small and the cabin was compact but the Nautica offers a lot more space with its wider body. Those who felt the Kembaras seating made them too intimate with their passengers will be pleased with the extra elbow room and also the larger seats. The drivers seating position is high, like in the Kembara, something which was a major reason for many people buying the SUV.