Franklin TN – Nissan plans to jump into yet another market segment now owned by the U.S.automakers with the introduction early next year of a 12-passenger van, an addition to the company’s new line of commercial vehicles.
The 2012 Nissan NV3500 HD Passenger Van – essentially a minibus – will be aimed at two consumer groups: large families and commercial limo/bus operators.
The vehicle most likely will be used primarily by companies operating passenger shuttle services, such as hotels and car-rental companies. It also will make a great small bus for tours, church and school groups, and so forth.
Ford and General Motors offer passenger vans of this size, and even Mercedes has one that’s sold here under the Sprinter name. But this is a first for Japanese automakers in the United States. Toyota and Nissan both sell full-size pickups in competition with Ford, GM and Chrysler (the Ram brand), but Toyota has no big vans.
Tennessee-based Nissan North America Inc. earlier this year introduced its NV line of cargo vans, all of which are made at the company’s manufacturing complex in Canton, Miss. That facility will build the passenger model, as well.
The full-size (maxi) cargo vans come in three versions, the NV1500, NV2500 HD and NV3500 HD, and offer a choice of a V-6 or V-8 engine and either a standard-height roof or a raised roof that is high enough for someone 6-foot-3 to stand up inside.
Based on a chassis similar to that of Nissan’s full-size Titan pickup, these vans represent an entirely new line of business for the automaker in the U.S.
market, putting Nissan into competition with similar cargo vans from Ford, Chevrolet and Sprinter.
The new Passenger Van comes on the largest of the three chassis used for the NV line, the 3500 HD. This four-row model has ”the most flexible seating configurations in the full-size passenger van segment, along with one of the highest standard horsepower and torque ratings,” Nissan says.
”Just as we did prior to shaking up the commercial van category with the highly innovative Nissan NV, we first did our homework in the full-size van segment by studying the real-world needs, wants and desires of both families and fleet operators,” said Joe Castelli, Nissan North America’s vice president for commercial and fleet vehicles.
”As a result, we’re delivering a vehicle that offers everything owners are looking for – enhanced usability, driver and passenger comfort, flexible storage, dependability, durability and an affordable cost of ownership,” he said.
The passenger model will be available with either a 261-horsepower, 4.0-liter V-6 engine (with 281 foot-pounds of torque) or a 317-horsepower, 5.6-liter V-8 (with 385 foot-pounds of torque). A five-speed automatic transmission is standard with both engines.
As with the cargo vans, the passenger model will have a fully boxed ladder frame with independent-front-strut and solid-rear-axle suspension, with leaf springs in the rear. Also included are heavy-duty antilock disc brakes, engine-speed-sensitive power steering and a 28-gallon fuel tank for extended range.
There will be seat belts and headrests for all passengers along with side-curtain air bags for all four rows.
Nissan says there are 324 possible seating configurations, with large first-row seats ”to optimize comfort.” The rear seats can be removed or repositioned as needed.
There also will be ”mobile office’’ capabilities with a large center console up front that can hold a laptop computer and charger, hanging files and other office supplies. A 120-volt power outlet can be included.
Heating/air-conditioning vents will be over each row, and there also will be reading lights available for the back seats, along with cup/bottle holders. In addition, there will be a 120-volt power outlet in the third row and a cargo light behind the fourth row.
Technology options will include a navigation system, Bluetooth hands-free phone connection, wiring for a telematics system, XM satellite radio and a rearview camera.
Three trim levels will be offered for the passenger vans: the NV3500 HD S, NV3500 HD SV and NV3500 HD SL (which comes only with the V-8 engine).
No prices have been announced yet for the passenger models but the 2012 NV cargo vans debuted in February beginning at $24,950 (plus $980 freight) for the NV1500. They range as high as $30,590 for the NV3500 with the high roof. That raised roof is available only on the NV2500 and 3500 models.
The 1500 cargo model comes only with the V-6 engine, while the 2500 model can be equipped with the V-6 or V-8. The 3500 cargo models come only with the V-8.
These engines are essentially the same ones Nissan puts in a variety of its other U.S. vehicles. The V-8 also is used in the Titan pickup and Armada full-size SUV, as well as in the Infiniti QX56 sport utility.
Vehicles such as the Xterra and Pathfinder SUVs and Frontier pickups are equipped with the same V-6 engine.
The NV has a 120-inch cargo floor length and 70.2-inch maximum interior width. Standard models can accommodate cargo up to 55.8 inches, while those with the high roof can hold items up to 76.9 inches high. That also allows the interior to be configured as a mobile workspace, in which most people would be able to stand up without touching the ceiling.
These vans are easy to drive and maneuver through city traffic, even though they’re 20 inches longer than the Ford E-series (formerly called Econoline) vans from Ford, the sales of which account for 55 percent of the large-van market. The Nissan vans have a shorter turning radius than the Ford models.
Also different is the engine layout in the Nissan van. It has an engine compartment that sticks out in front of the vehicle as it does in a traditional pickup, while in the Ford and GM commercial vans, the engine sits under a large cover between the driver and front-seat passenger, severely limiting legroom for the passenger. In the industry, this cover is called a ”doghouse.”
Although Nissan is new to the commercial-vehicle market in this country, the automaker is no stranger to this business. It has been selling commercial vehicles in other markets for the past 75 years. It sold 700,000 of them, in several sizes and shapes, in 2010. That accounted for one in five of all Nissan vehicles sold worldwide.