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Thursday, January 20, 2011

Nissan makes a play for Detroit's vans

Nissan North America took aim at another Detroit 3-dominated vehicle segment today when it began producing commercial vans at its plant in Canton, Miss.

Nissan's new 2012 NV will go on sale in late February, squaring off against the Ford E series and General Motors' GMC Savana and Chevrolet Express cargo vans, as well as the Freightliner Sprinter, which had been sold by Dodge but is now sold by Freightliner dealers.

Joe Castelli, Nissan North America's vice president for light commercial vehicles and fleet, acknowledged that the van faces a tough crowd for the Detroit-dominated product segment.

“We're going up against two formidable competitors who have 95 percent of the segment,” Castelli said of Ford and GM. “We're the new kids on the job site.”

But he called his new van a “segment buster.”

He said Nissan plans to reach commercial van customers -- such as home builders, plumbers, house painters, florists and shuttle operators -- by offering a more modern vehicle. The NV boasts pickup-style front seats. It offers a tall-roof option that lets users walk around in the cargo area. And it provides pre-drilled cargo mounts in the vehicle body -- an innovation that will make it easier and less expensive for van up-fitters to install racks and shelves.

North American entry

Carlos Tavares, chairman for Nissan Americas, said the innovations will help establish Nissan in the segment.

“The NV brings innovation into a segment that hasn't seen much in decades,” Tavares told workers at the Canton plant this afternoon.

Globally, Nissan Motor Co. markets a large portfolio of commercial vehicles, including moving vans, specialty trucks and taxis. The production launch in Mississippi represents the first salvo in Nissan's entry into the commercial business in North America.

Other commercial vehicles will follow the NV, including a compact cargo van that will go against the small Ford Transit Connect. Nissan also will sell an electric version of that van.

Dealership changes

The NV will retail for $25,570, including dealer delivery. Castelli said about 250 of Nissan's 1,100 U.S. retailers have opted to sell the commercial van. To add the line, Nissan dealers had to agree to make dealership changes, including installation of more heavy-duty vehicle lifts, a designated service lane, larger service shop doors in some cases, and sales and technical training to handle commercial customers.

“As the economic recovery is just beginning to take hold,” Castelli told workers, “we're in a prime position to capture that tremendous pent-up demand for long overdue replacement vehicles.

“This is just the starting point for Nissan commercial vehicles in the United States,” he said. “We plan on becoming a major player.”

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