DETROIT –Motor Co. Ltd. may be on a growth spurt, but all it expects from its next new entries, the Frontier compact pickup truck and Pathfinder SUV, is to maintain its traditional market share.
|Nissan Frontier is all-new this year.|
“The compact pickup truck segment has been declining over the last couple years because of the downward pressure from fullsize trucks,” says Jed Connelly,senior vice president-sales and marketing.
“What we decided about two years ago, when the segment was under attack, was that we’d try to maintain our share at about 9%-10% and try to stay profitable,” says Connelly. “We’ve been able to do that, and I have no reason to expect we won’t be able to do that for this truck. We think that keeping our share and keeping our profitable mix is key for us.”
For the Frontier, a profitable mix depends on strong volumes from the crew-cab model, which is slated to bow at the Chicago auto show next week.
The only question, says Connelly, is what will happen to the compact pickup segment. He has a hunch it has bottomed out, and new product such as the Frontier and the Chevrolet Colorado will give compact pickups a bounce.
Also on the Frontier’s side: the Titan – a vehicle whose styling the Frontier closely mimics.
“For the first time, we have a big brother,” Connelly says. “I think Titan is going to be a nice halo for the launch of the Frontier.”
Similar share goals are in place for the Pathfinder, which, though it has been a strong product for Nissan, has seen the compact SUV market shift over the years from truck- to car-based vehicles.
“The two things that have caused the Pathfinder the most problems were crossovers, of which we now have a very successful one in the Murano. And we were the last 2-row-only SUV (in the class). We think that a 3-row Pathfinder, with Pathfinder reputation for on-road refinement and off-road capability will be ideal.”
Just as Frontier styling takes cues from the Titan, the new Pathfinder bears resemblance to the Pathfinder Armada fullsize SUV – something Connelly believes will help the new entry.
“I think family resemblance is really powerful,” he says. “The grille and the badge: basically, it’s your name. It’s the face that you show to the public, and if you’re proud of it, it’s a good thing to integrate into the product lineup.”
Perhaps more important than image to the new entries, however, is power. Both the pickup and SUV had been hurt by a less-than-brawny powertrain. The standard V-6 option in the current Frontier is a 3.3L that produces 180 hp – 210 with the addition of a supercharger. Pathfinder, meanwhile, is powered by a 240 hp 3.5L V-6.
The new engine, a 4L V-6, is a derivative of Nissan’s Dechard, TN-built 3.5L VQ. Nissan says it will produce 250 hp for the Frontier and a bit more for the Pathfinder.
While Pathfinder and Frontier sales are slated simply to hold steady, Nissan, which saw sales increase 7.4% in 2003, is expecting double-digit sales growth to the 950,000-unit range for 2004. Most of the growth will come from a pipeline full of last year’s new products, including the Titan, Pathfinder Armada, Quest minivan and Infiniti FX 35/45.