All things go in cycles, even when it comes to booming demand for utility vehicles. Make that CUVs, or crossover-utility vehicle, which have all but bumped traditional sport-utes off the market.
But there are signs a revival of classic, body-on-frame SUVs just might be a-coming, with Ford readying a reborn Bronco, Toyota promising to follow the FT-AC Concept with a production model, and Jeep betting big on the all-new remake of the classic Wrangler – currently one of the few true SUVs left on the market.
Could Nissan be ready to toss its own hat back in the ring, however, with an all-new version of the Xterra, which it pulled from the U.S. market in 2015? Apparently yes, according to a senior Nissan executive.
The Xterra “is a great asset in terms of a name and a badge,” Michael Bunce, senior vice president of product planning for Nissan North America, told trade publication Wards Auto. “It’s on the shelf right now, but it’s something we could utilize in the future.”
Nissan was one of the most aggressive brands in moving away from classic truck-based SUVs to car-based CUVs. And it used models like the original Murano to develop a more aggressive design language to differentiate the two.
It walked away almost entirely from body-on-frame models when it switched the Pathfinder to a car-based platform in 2013 and then pulled Xterra from production a couple years later. Today, only the 17-foot-long Nissan Armada – and its Infiniti sibling, the QX80 – remain classic “truck-trucks.”
The sales charts suggest that’s a wise shift in strategy. It’s been a decade since CUVs passed SUVs in terms of market demand, and the gap has grown ever wider. But there are signs some buyers are tiring of the soft-roaders that dominate today’s market – even though some models deliver surprisingly good off-road performance.
(First drive: Click Here for a review of the new Jeep Wrangler.)
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles was certainly willing to make that bet when it invested over $1 billion to develop the all-new 2019 Wrangler and re-tool its factory in Toledo, Ohio. Ford, meanwhile, is getting ready to roll out the new version of the Bronco which it will build alongside the new Ranger pickup it will launch next year from a re-tooled plant in Wayne, Michigan. And Toyota officials openly promised a production model of the FT-AC Concept they revealed less than two months ago at the L.A. Auto Show.
Like Ford, expectations are that Nissan is building a business case by focusing on economies of scale. It will all but certainly base any revival of the Xterra on the same body-on-frame platform it is developing for the next-generation Frontier pickup.
That truck could certainly use its own makeover. The last time the Nissan Frontier was updated the midsize pickup segment was all but written off, most long-time buyers opting up for full-size offerings instead. But with the unexpected success of the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon twins and the rebirth of the Honda Ridgeline, Ford is re-entering the segment and Nissan is rushing to update Frontier.
Expect the Frontier – and a new Xterra – to undergo some major changes. Both will have to maintain their cargo-hauling and off-road bona fides, but they’ll also need to deliver better on-road manners, along with improved fuel economy – and lots of new tech, safety and creature comfort features.
One likely change would be either a shift away from the 261-hp V-6 found in today’s Frontier or, perhaps more likely, the addition of some optional alternatives. In his comments to Wards, product planner Bunce pointed to Ford’s wide range of downsized V-6 and EcoBoost engines – which now account for the majority of sales in even the full-size F-150 line. That approach “opens up the door to us to look at alternatives, as well,” he noted.
(Click Here for a first look at the Toyota FT-AC Concept.)
There have also been reports Nissan might bring in a diesel for Frontier and perhaps even the next Xterra. Jeep has already promised one for the new Wrangler. Ironically, while the VW emissions scandal seems to have short-circuited growing demand for “oil burners” in passenger cars, interest in diesels is actually growing in the truck segment.
Nissan, incidentally, isn’t the only maker looking at its options for reentering the body-on-frame SUV segment. Chevrolet is also said to be giving serious thought to a revival of the old Bronco badge. We could hear more about that in the next few months.
(Spied: nearly-naked Ford Ranger will also serve as foundation for reborn Bronco. Click Here for the story and spy shots.)