In an article from Automotive News, an organization that caters to automotive media and industry types, reported that Nissan chief Carlos Ghosn has hopes of raising Nissan market share here in North America, but not by adding models for greater appeal, but by possibly scrapping some. He did not name any models, but the bottom line as I heard it was looking for overlap, and weeding out undesirable cars. Which got me thinking-what Nissan cars could be at risk? And what are their chances of survival?
It’s hard to believe, I know. The Pathfinder was huge for Nissan, and a significant player in the SUV market throughout the 1990’s. But that was when the SUV reigned supreme. Buyer’s preferences have shifted, however. Realizing that off-roading is an unlikely venture, buyers have migrated to the more car-like crossover, and the proof is in the numbers. For every Pathfinder Nissan sells, more than two Muranos go out the dealer’s doors. Considering the current Pathfinder has been with us since 2005, the vehicle is practically ancient, and seemingly forgotten by Nissan. That lack of development is a troubling sign that Nissan may be on the fence of the future of the Pathfinder.
The Xterra is just as old as the current Pathfinder-the last time a new model was introduced was in 2005. So, once again we have a relic residing in the Nissan line, with no news of an upcoming replacement. It’s also the slowest selling SUV/CUV in Nissan’s line. But the Xterra sits on the same platform as the Frontier and Titan, which makes it cheaper to keep on going.Ã‚Â While a slow seller for the brand, the Xterra gives Nissan some street cred for being a legit old school SUV capable of doing off-road duty. Given its ties to Nissan’s trucks, and the rugged image it provides the brand, I stand to reason that the Xterra’s future may not be guaranteed, but the reasons for keeping it around outweigh forgo scrapping it.
Like the Pathfinder, the Maxima is a long-time member of the Nissan family, and it’s hard to imagine not having it around. But the Altima has taken the place as Nissan’s mainstream mid-size sedan, easily outselling it by a 2:1 margin. Given the raging success of the Altima, I’m left a bit confused of where the Maxima fits in Nissan’s portfolio. While the Altima dukes it out with the Ford Fusion and Toyota Camry, does the Maxima go head on with their larger cars, namely the Taurus and Avalon? The message from Nissan is blurred, since it continues to market it as a ‘four door sports car’, a tag that fit years ago. But today, with front-wheel drive and a boring CVT transmission, the Maxima hardly comes off as to what I’d consider to be an honest sports sedan today.
Nissan airs a TV commercial where a guy awakes to find his wife is expecting a baby. He then stands in the driveway, gazing longingly at his Nissan 370Z. He then ‘pulls’ the car, transforming it into a Maxima. Let’s be real. If I owned a 370Z and needed a car with a back seat, and did not want to give up on performance, Nissan already builds that car, and it is not the Maxima. It’s called the Infiniti G37. Rear or all-wheel drive? Option of a manual tranny or a 7-speed automatic? The G37 is the obvious choice. If Nissan wants to continue with the Maxima, it needs to seriously rethink just who they are targeting.
The cube is a tough one to figure out. We sampled one, and generally came away impressed. But I’m an automotive journalist who tends to like something new and different, and the cube does just that. While I applaud the cube for its individuality, it is the market that ultimately speaks. The notion of a small, boxy utility vehicle is a distinctly Asian innovation that did get some traction in the North American marketplace. But Honda has abandoned the Element, and the once popular Scion xB has seen its sales dwindle. The Kia Soul enjoys a good level of success, and is highly promoted by Kia with their catchy hamster TV commercials. In comparison, Nissan does little to promote the cube. Despite its lack of sales volume, Nissan indicated they remain committed to keeping the cube in the current product line, for now at least.
Again, a vehicle that really leaves us scratching our heads. The Murano CrossCabriolet, the first convertible crossover looks like an answer to a question no one ever asked. While The Garage has yet to sample one, the automotive media has bashed the car in reviews. While I’m all for niche marketing, this car just goes to an extreme that I simply cannot rationalize. If Nissan wanted to add a drop top to its line, I feel their money would have been much better spent on taking the Altima Coupe and turning that into a convertible, not to mention filling the void when Toyota cancelled the Solara coupe and convertible.
Mr. Ghosn’s remarks struck me as quite interesting, not because Nissan is not selling well, but because they are. As a whole, Nissan is a fairly successful car company. In the small sedan market, the Versa completely dominates. Nissan is on a roll with the Altima, selling over 222,000 cars in the US by the end of October, an increase of 18% from a year ago. The Rogue and Murano crossovers are also sales successes. But in the hyper-competitive car business, there is always room for improvement, and I can see where Mr. Ghosn is thinking of the ‘less is more’ concept. What vehicles remain is unknown, but it is definitely food for thought.