In case you were tired of all the SUV/crossover mutants that look like minivans.
Now that SUVs are selling as if they had rare Pokemons stashed inside, carmakers are rapidly expanding their lineups to appeal to any and all potential customers. There are those who like the rugged SUV image, but on the other side of the coin are buyers who want sleek lines and luxury appeal to make their big cars less conspicuous. Nissan, an automaker that once prided itself on sturdy and boxy looking truck-based SUVs, has now gone the route of the former by transforming its Pathfinder into the very definition of the soccer mom’s car.
It then rounded out the Juke, Murano, and Rogue following the trend of softening up SUVs to more accurately reflect the fact that they will likely never see the dirt. To break free of the curvaceous, organic, and feminine lines of these crossover/SUV hybrids, Nissan buyers need to swim upstream to the $40,000 neighborhood for the big and brawny Armada. However, even the new Armada is forgoing straight lines for more curves. Without any lower-tier SUVs featuring a strong masculine jawline in its lineup, buyers are happy to take their money to Toyota for the 4Runner or Jeep for a copy of the Wrangler if they want to shed the minivan aesthetic. Nissan, however, would prefer if buyers stayed and spent the money in its dealerships.
That’s why it has all the incentive in the world to bring back the Xterra SUV, the mid-sized off-roader that featured lights on its roof rack and back to basics lines that gave it BS-free styling. Due to its aging looks, the Xterra was killed off last year with no mention of a return date, but renewed consumer confidence eked out by cheap oil and a revitalized economy mean that there is now incentive for a new Xterra. Now that the Japanese automaker is currently in the middle of a large push to refresh models and boost sales, it announced that it would designate 2016 as the year of the truck. As the nation’s second largest car brand, it needs to go after truck and SUV buyers if it cares to expand any more.
And expand it will; by the end of the year, Nissan expects 85% of its truck and SUV lineup to be new and account for a total of 500,000 annual sales. To help fill its lineup with plenty of choices, it will announce a new SUV in September and reveal a new crossover by January 2017. While Nissan officials have neither confirmed nor denied our suspicions, we think the new SUV will be an all-new Xterra, which will come out just in time to recapture some sales of those who want a rugged but inexpensive SUV. Of course, styling would be key here. As mentioned before, the Pathfinder managed to find the path of the minivan and trekked down it at full speed, so for the Xterra to be successful, it should stick to the hardcore look that lives in its DNA.
Furthermore, the old Xterra was based off of the Frontier chassis, and an all new version of that truck is expected to go on sale in 2018, giving engineers enough time to figure out how to use it for an Xterra encore. These suspicions were egged on during our recent visit to Carmel Valley, California for the reveal of the new Titan, Armada, and Pathfinder (stay tuned) where Nissan officials kept exclaiming that the automaker was taking its trucks seriously. When pushed about the Xterra, the prospect of the new SUV was neither confirmed nor denied. It’s a bit unfair to speculate the release of a new model based off of body language and unspoken communication, but as they say only 7% of a message is relayed through spoken word.
The rest can be conveyed through the excited squirming of engineers and product specialists who want to indulge us car fans only slightly less than they want to keep their jobs. As far as we know, the reveal will happen sometime in September but for now, we’ll have to find solace in the fact that Nissan is finally giving its ancient truck and SUV lineup some much needed attention. Despite the fact that Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn once claimed that the new generation of car buyers is much more demanding about respect for the environment than the auto industry expected, sales numbers don't lie and SUVs are a must for any automaker that wants to stay ahead of the game. Just ask Maserati.