DETROIT â Although they both are boxes on wheels, the upcomingCube will not cannibalize Scion xB sales, a Nissan North America Inc. official tells Wardâs.
Expected in the U.S. as early as 2009, the Cube will attract a more âgender-neutralâ buyer than the xB, which has just been redesigned for â08, says Larry Dominique, vice president-product planning.
âWhat weâre trying to do is identify the target customers we want to go after (with the Cube),â says Dominique, speaking to Wardâs after an SAE Foundation dinner here where he helped presentMotor Co. Ltd. CEO Carlos Ghosn with an award.
âWe think itâs different than what Scion is going after. We think we can get a bit more gender neutral, maybe a little bit more female (buyer) than what theyâre getting. Certainly xB today is a little young, macho dude car,â he says.
While the Cube might attract some buyers of the original, smaller xB, the new Scion xD hatchback could pose a challenge to the Cube, he says.
â(The) xD is a little bit smaller than a lot of our B-platform vehicles,â Dominique says.
Dominique declines to comment on reports out of Japan earlier this week that indicated Nissan had more small cars planned for the U.S. beyond the Cube.
âWhen you start looking at our portfolio: Cube, Versa hatch, Versa sedan, then our C-class platform Sentra, thatâs quite a few products,â he says of Nissanâs small-car U.S. offerings.
While sales of many of its larger models have been slumping as of late, the B-segment Versa has been a success for Nissan, with sales of 21,208 units through April in the U.S., according to Wardâs data, which places it just behind the Lower Small segment-leadingYaris.
Nissan continues to offer three transmission choices for the Versa: a 6-speed manual, a continuously variable transmission, and a 4-speed automatic. The latter transmission was to be offered for only a short period after the Versaâs launch last summer, but Dominique says it has proven popular, with a take rate that is just below the CVT.
â(Manual transmission take rates are) pretty low, I donât know the exact number, but itâs the low 20% (range),â he says. âAnd beyond that I think the (CVT) mix is a little higher than 4AT.â
Nissan had some supply problems with both the 4-speed and CVT transmissions when Versa launched. âThe mix was not really vetted out very well,â Dominique admits.
âRight now, weâre looking at the dealer orders. Weâre starting to get a better feel for whatâs coming out. And from my perspective, whether we keep CVT or 4-speed AT, we want to make sure the lineup between Versa and Sentra sedan is well positioned. So thatâs going to drive our ultimate decisions on what we do on the transmissions.â
Asked if he believes the Versa has cannibalized sales of the new Sentra, which has been down vs. year-ago all but two months since its October 2006 launch, he says ânot too much.â
âWhen you look at the transaction price Sentra is getting, and the kind of customer weâre attracting to it, itâs pretty close to target,â Dominique says.
Instead, he believes that moving Sentra up in price, to make room for Versa, is what has caused the vehicle to lose traction in the market.
While Sentra is having âa great monthâ in May, Dominique says Nissan will need to manage in the long-term how the Versa and Sentra fit together in the brandâs lineup.
Meanwhile, Carlos Ghosn, presented with the 2007 Manufacturing Leadership Award here, says he is confident Nissan will make its net-profit target for its current fiscal year, but cautions that the period is only two months old, âso weâll have to see.â
He reiterates his belief the U.S. new-vehicle market will end the year with a seasonal annually adjusted rate of 16 million units, a forecast that was conservative compared with others in the industry early in the year but now appears on target.
Ghosn also says Nissan has had no discussions withGroup buyer Cerberus Capital Management LP over possible joint ventures.
Ghosn last year made headlines when he began talks withCorp. CEO Rick Wagoner over taking a stake in the No.1 U.S. auto maker. The two sides eventually parted ways after GM said it could find few benefits.
Ghosn, in his speech, talks about the importance of developing the engineers of tomorrow, while presenting the SAE Foundation with a $1.5 million gift to be put toward kindergarten-third grade math and science programs.