NASHVILLE – Nissan North America Inc. says it still needs time to gain traction in the minivan segment, despite having a presence in the market since 1992.

The Nissan Quest has had a roller coaster history, hitting its stride in 1995 with 54,050 sales, dropping to 17,480 deliveries in 2002, only to rise again to 46,430 units two years later, Ward’s data shows.

This year, despite a mid-cycle change to the ’07 model that went on sale in June, Quest sales are down 24% through October to 26,967 units, although still 15.5% ahead of like-2005.

“We just want to be patient, because it’s a tough market to break into,” Brad Bradshaw, NNA senior vice president-sales and marketing, tells Ward’s in a recent interview.

“There’s a lot of strong competitors out there,” he says. “One of the domestic brands (Chrysler) is basically known as the minivan company, so they’re very strong, and our Japanese competitors have very strong products. So I think it’s going to take us a while to break into the market.”

Quest sales are humble stacked up against competing entrants.

Through October, Chrysler Group led Ward’s Small Van segment with 36,721 Chrysler Town & Country deliveries and 182,805 Dodge Caravan sales. American Honda Motor Co. Inc.’s Odyssey sold 150,550 units in the 10-month period, and Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc. delivered 133,644 Sienna minivans.

Nevertheless, Ward’s Small Van segment was down 9.9% to 830,632 units through October.

Bradshaw insists, to be fair, current Quest sales should be measured against the first-generation Quest, which was built alongside the now-defunct Mercury Villager at Avon Lake, OH, in a joint venture with Ford Motor Co. Nissan led the engineering for both vehicles.

However, Ward’s data shows sales of the early Quest were relatively good, with annual deliveries of better than 45,000 units annually from 1993-1997.

Ford-built Quest production began in 1992 and ended in 2002, two years earlier than originally planned, as Nissan brought its Canton, MS, plant online in May 2003 with the third-generation ’04 Quest.

Although Nissan allotted 80,000 units of capacity at Canton for the Quest annually, parallel sales volumes never materialized. Nissan recently announced plans to shift Quest production to its Kyushu, Japan, plant before the end of the decade.

Dominique Thormann, NNA senior vice president-administration, says the decision was based on optimizing Nissan’s global footprint.

“It’s not a U.S. issue; it’s a global manufacturing issue,” Thormann insists, noting parent Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. is reviewing its needs worldwide.

“What’s sharing what; what platform, what assembly line, what components; and where they are relative – and what plant they’ll optimize their industrial footprint. It’s more that decision than anything else,” he says.

Ward’s data shows the next-generation Quest arriving in ’10 and continuing to share its architecture with Nissan’s Altima midsize car, which recently switched to the auto maker’s new D platform from its previous FF-L base.

Related document: Ward's North America Product Cycle

Bradshaw declines to reveal what vehicle will take Quest’s capacity at Canton.

Possible candidates could include a future Altima coupe or a planned heavy-duty version of the Titan fullsize pickup truck. Canton currently builds the Titan exclusively, along with a nominal number of Altima sedans.

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com