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Dealers ask Nissan for more SUVs and pickups

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Dealers ask Nissan for more SUVs and pickups

Lindsay Chappell

Automotive News -- February 15, 2010 - 12:01 am ET

Nissan dealers want more trucks, and the automaker is going to try to deliver.

Although pickup sales remain depressed from 2007 levels, Nissan retailers see signs of life in some products.

In an early February meeting with Nissan North America Inc. officials, a group of dealers requested more Frontier and Titan pickups and more Pathfinder and Armada SUVs.

"Dealers are continuing to ask for more of what we call box-on-frame vehicles," says Chris Assmar, executive manager of Esserman Nissan in Miami and 2010 chairman of Nissan's National Dealer Advisory Board.

"After gas prices escalated more than a year ago, all manufacturers, not just Nissan, cut production of that type of model. For the past six months, they've been adding more production. But the dealer body is asking for more, more, more. It is a big topic with us."

January sales of the mid-sized Frontier pickup were up 22 percent from January 2009, while sales of the full-sized Armada surged 98 percent.

"That whole segment is doing very well for us right now," Assmar says.

Al Castignetti, Nissan Division's vice president of sales, says he agrees with the dealers and is asking Nissan's plants for more truck production. Castignetti says production schedules for the fiscal year could deliver more trucks.

The request from retailers demonstrates the complexity of product planning in the current environment. Nissan and other manufacturers were caught flat-footed in 2008 by the collapse of the pickup and SUV segments. The crash forced the automakers to cut factory output and jobs.

Since then, automakers have been scrambling to shift factory output to more fuel-efficient vehicles and crossovers. Unibody vehicles such as the Nissan Rogue crossover typically are more fuel-efficient than body-on-frame vehicles such as the Pathfinder SUV.

Nissan is on the verge of spending $1.8 billion on an electric-car and lithium ion battery manufacturing project in Smyrna, Tenn., and also will invest to put its new U.S.-bound global small-car V platform into production in Mexico.

The automaker also is converting parts of its body-on-frame light-truck plant in Canton, Miss., to begin producing a family of commercial vehicles this year, including a small electric van.

But there is still promise in Nissan's basic trucks, Assmar says.

"We don't need to start having a 120-day supply of trucks sitting on the ground," he says, "but we're definitely looking for more volume. And they are gradually giving it to us."

Read more: http://www.autonews.com/article/20100215/RETAIL03/302159978/1078#ixzz0fcBLBP0i

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