DETROIT – Thinking way outside the box, Nissan Design America Inc. designers in La Jolla, CA, offer a new interpretation of the minivan for empty nesters who have tired of the stylistically challenged family haulers.

At the North American International Auto Show here, Nissan unveils its quirky and boxy Bevel multipurpose concept vehicle, sporting three rows of seats for consumers who want flexibility and plenty of cargo space for golf clubs, tools and pets.

The Bevel, with its square back end, slabby side panels and angular snout, harkens back to General Motors Corp.’s space-age minivans that arrived in 1990 and resembled a handheld “Dust Buster” vacuum sweeper.

The aggressively styled Pontiac Trans Sport, Chevy Lumina and Oldsmobile Silhouette minivans never caught on with consumers.

The Bevel concept is designed to target mostly male buyers between the ages of 45 and 60, whose kids are grown and who now are fully engaged in hobbies, recreation and community service work.

Don’t count on the Bevel to find its way into production anytime soon. The Bevel primarily is a design study, allowing Nissan to explore new ideas with regard to interior utility as the minivan sector evolves, Brad Bradshaw, senior vice president-sales and marketing for Nissan North America Inc., says.

“It seems as segments mature, they tend to fragment, so we need to be ready with what it is people want in those sub-segments that start to emerge,” Bradshaw tells journalists after the Bevel’s unveiling here.

“The empty nesters seem to be a segment that hasn’t been addressed very well yet. That’s what (this) concept is all about.”

Nissan has learned the hard way about taking risks with regard to minivan styling. Its Quest was redesigned for ’04 with swooping sheet metal and a radical interior. For ’07, Nissan gutted the passenger compartment in a complete facelift that cost the auto maker some $70 million and gave the Quest more conventional interior appointments.

Features of the Bevel concept include glass roof-mounted solar panels and drive-by-wire steering, throttle and braking. The powertrain for the hybrid-electric vehicle consists of a 2.5L V-6 paired with an electric motor.

Doors are purposely oversized for the driver, while large suicide doors on the passenger side afford ample access to the interior. A multi-function tailgate has a slide-out utility platform. Fiber-optic side cameras replace the side-view mirrors.

Meanwhile, Nissan unveils its new Rogue small cross/utility vehicle, which will compete against the Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V, Chevy Equinox and Ford Escape.

“It is the hottest segment in the truck market, and we are looking forward to being a competitor out there,” Bradshaw says of the Rogue, which arrives late to the CUV party.

“We’re up against some pretty good competition in the CR-V and the RAV4, and they’ve done quite well with their entries, so we’re expecting the same,” he says.

The Rogue goes on sale in the fall and will have a starting price of about $20,000, Bradshaw says. All-wheel drive will be available, as well as steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifting.

tmurphy@wardsauto.com