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Nissan US delivers first right hook

Softened: Nissan has taken a much different approach to its next-generation Pathfinder SUV, set to go on sale here in 2013.

All-new Pathfinder to blaze trail into right-hand drive for Nissan’s US engineers

11 Jan 2012


THE all-new Nissan Pathfinder destined for Australia will be the first vehicle engineered by Nissan’s North American technical centre for right-hand drive.

So far, Australia is the only right-hand-drive market to put up its hand for the US-built vehicle, which is regarded as too big for customers in other RHD markets such as Britain and Japan.

Details of Nissan’s new mid-sized SUV, which will go into production later this year for North America before heading Down Under in late 2013, were revealed by Nissan Technical Centre North America president Carla Bailo, whose team developed the vehicle.

The fourth-generation Pathfinder, which reverts to a car-like monocoque platform instead of the previous Navara body-on-frame architecture, is one of Nissan’s core products in the US, where the seven-seater is a favourite of families.

Ms Bailo said her engineers were on a learning curve for the development of the Pathfinder for Australia, but guaranteed that the vehicle would be designed and fully tested for Australian conditions.

With the release of the Pathfinder in Australia still 18 months away, she said that work on the RHD version was still in its infancy.

12 center imageWhile Ms Bailo did not mention it, the Pathfinder is unlikely to be the only RHD vehicle developed in the US, as Nissan Australia is also eyeing a Maxima replacement from North America.

Ms Bailo said Nissan had decided to adopt the monocoque (or ‘unibody’) design because truck-like SUVs were falling out of favour with SUV buyers, who were looking for more refinement and greater fuel economy.

She said the switch had chopped more than 200kg out of the weight of the new-generation vehicle, resulting in considerable fuel savings.

Further weight savings have also been made with the adoption of high-strength steel, lighter seats and other interior fittings, for a total saving of 227kg.

Even though Australia might be the only right-hand-drive market for Pathfinder – as it was for the upcoming new Patrol when that was announced – it is expected to be one of the five biggest markets, with sales of about 10,000 units a year.

Nissan Australia CEO Dan Thompson said, that while some customers might lament the demise of the rugged body-on-frame chassis, many more buyers would appreciate the greater efficiency and refinement of the new model.

“That is why we are selling 200 month now, instead of 1000 a month,” he said.

Nissan Design America president Alfonso Albaisa, whose San Diego-based team designed the Pathfinder, said the switch in platforms had delivered great benefits, including a lower floor height and better packaging that allowed improvements in passenger entry and egress.

“We have developed a seat system for easier entry into the third row (of seats), and you don’t have to remove the baby seat,” he said. “You can just fly into the third row now.”

Mr Albaisa said improvements in refinement meant a quieter cabin.

“You can have a conversation from the third row to the front row instead of a conversation with the differential,” he said.

Ms Bailo promised the new Pathfinder would still have strong off-road qualities, saying the design parameter for the vehicle was to match the ability of the current model.

Although the powertrain line-up for the new Pathfinder has yet to be announced, no diesel engines have been mentioned, as the US market has little interest in oil-burners.

The only engine mentioned so far is a V6 – thought to be a 3.5-litre version of Nissan’s acclaimed VQ engine that powers a range of Nissan models, including the new Infiniti JX35 that shares the same platform as the new Pathfinder and the upcoming Maxima sedan replacement, which is due in about two years.

Mr Thompson said Nissan Australia would market its Navara and new Patrol towards the more hardcore off-roaders wanting more rugged off-road capability and heavier towing capacity than the Pathfinder could deliver.

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