CALISTOGA, CA –is in no hurry to redesign its aging U.S. light-truck lineup, even though five of its seven models are five years old or older.
Tom Smith, director-marketing for the auto maker’s U.S. light-truck range, says returning buyers, as well as other factors, should help keep sales steady.
“We do have good loyalty rates, particularly on (pickup) trucks, the Titan and Frontier,” he tells WardsAuto in an interview at a ’13 Pathfinder media event here.
While the majority of U.S. trucks and utility vehicles today bear a swoopy, softer design language, Smith says the boxy look of the Titan and Frontier, as well as the Xterra SUV, does have its fans.
“We’re told, particularly on the truck side, styling is still really important, and there are a lot of buyers who choose our vehicles for styling. We see that in (the) Titan.”
’s last fully redesigned the Frontier and Xterra for ’05, while the Titan launched nine years ago as an ’04 model.
Sales of the three vehicles are well off their record volume: The Titan with 108,738 units, Frontier (88,578) and Xterra (86,945). However, all saw gains this year through September, particularly the Frontier, up 19.7% from prior-year to 44,814.
The auto maker intends to redesign the current Frontier, which reportedly will share a platform with the overseas Navara, although the timing of the launch is unclear. The debut of the new Titan and Xterra also is murky.
The new Titan was expected to launch by 2014, but Nissan has pulled away from that date. However, Executive Nissan Vice President Andy Palmer recently confirmed to WardsAuto that a next-generation model is a definite go. But the Japanese auto maker has not said if the Xterra will remain in the lineup.
A WardsAuto’s product-cycle chart shows a new Frontier for ’16 and Titan for ’15, with the Xterra exiting the lineup in 2015, two years past the planned 2013 exit.
Larry Dominique, Nissan’s former chief of product planning for the Americas, told WardsAuto in 2010 the body-on-frame Xterra might “be a tough vehicle to keep around” due to the sales decline of off-road SUVs and more stringent U.S. fuel-economy regulations coming soon.
By 2025, auto makers selling in the U.S. must achieve a corporate average fuel economy of 54.5 mpg (4.3 L/100 km), an onerous target for gas-guzzling SUVs and pickups.
In addition to the Frontier, Titan and Xterra, Nissan also offers the Titan-based Armada SUV and Rogue, Murano and Pathfinder cross/utility vehicles. The latter is classified by Nissan as an SUV because of its towing and all-wheel-drive capabilities.
WardsAuto’s product cycle chart calls for the Armada and Murano to be redesigned for ’15, while the Rogue will be all-new next year for ’14.
Smith says an advertising presence will help keep sales of older models steady and may even give them a boost. The Frontier has enjoyed a dedicated marketing campaign for the past two years, which Smith partially credits for the midsize pickup’s 2012 increase in deliveries.
“For us, it’s really about trying to keep consumers interested,” he says, noting Nissan currently is formulating a fiscal-2013 marketing plan for the Frontier and Titan.
Right now Nissan largely is relying on Internet banner ads to promote the large pickup and dealer spots to push both trucks. But it also is mulling other approaches, Smith says. “Should we try to get to state fairs vs. what we’re currently doing? A lot of our dealers do that locally, but is there something we could do on top of that?”
The Rogue midsize CUV is holding its own in a tough segment, he says, with strong competition from the newCR-V, the best-selling utility vehicle of any type in the U.S., and also from the recently launched ’13 Escape.
Heavy discounting byahead of the new RAV4 next year is keeping Nissan on its toes as well, he says. But Rogue sales still climbed 20.1%, to 109,763 units through September.
Nissan launches a new Pathfinder marketing campaign later this month in conjunction with the new ’13 model arriving at dealers. The redesigned SUV will be heavily promoted during televised professional and college football games into the next year.
After the initial launch phase, the auto maker will begin direct-mailing details of the Pathfinder to owners of competing models. Nissan isn’t divulging a sales target for the Pathfinder, but Smith sees no reason why the remodeled SUV, whose current version delivered 23,542 units through the year’s first nine months, can’t sell in similar volumes to its competitors.
WardsAuto’s Middle SUV segment leader is theExplorer, with 117,803 units sold through September.
is the leader in the midsize CUV segment. The Buick Enclave, Chevy Traverse, and GMC Acadia delivered more than 172,000 units through September. The Pilot and Highlander sold roughly 85,000 and 90,000, respectively, in the period.