By on March 11, 2015

2001 Nissan Xterra2015 will be the Nissan Xterra’s final model year. The final nails in the coffin were hammered in by an increasingly popular crossover market, total domination on the off-road category by the Jeep Wranglers, and Nissan’s inability to affordably recreate the Xterra with modern regulatory concerns in mind.

This doesn’t mean Nissan isn’t competing in the SUV market any more, but most of the automaker’s remaining SUVs are true crossovers. Nissan USA sold 376,388 Rogues, Pathfinders, Muranos, Jukes, and Titan-based Armadas in 2014.

Xterra volume, meanwhile, tumbled 77% over the course of a decade, falling by 55,942 units to 16,505 U.S. sales in 2005.

Although the nameplate had mostly levelled off over the last four years, that levelling off involved just 69,714 sales over a four-year period between 2011 and 2014, fewer than than the total number of sales achieved by the Xterra in 2005.

Nissan Xterra sales chartBut the Xterra was initially popular, both in the automotive press and in the North American market. Not that it’s a sure sign of future success, but Motor Trend twice named the Xterra its Sport Utility Of The Year. Sales in the model’s first full year, 2000, climbed to 88,578 units. As recently as 2005, the last time Nissan sold more than 70,000 in a calendar year, it was America’s 23rd-best-selling utility vehicle.

It fell to 61st in 2014 – behind the Mazda CX-9 and Range Rover Sport but ahead of the Porsche Cayenne and Toyota FJ Cruiser – and ranks 67th through the first two months of 2015, behind Nissan’s own Armada but ahead of the Audi Q3.

2014 Nissan XterraTo say that there’s no demand for this type of vehicle is to deny the success of the Jeep Wrangler. But the Wrangler isn’t just any other off-road capable SUV. Iconic styling, a pair of bodystyles, an aggressive base price, and a convertible bodystyle recently helped the Wrangler fend off a challenger from the planet’s largest automaker: the FJ Cruiser from Toyota.

In 2014, a record-setting year for the Wrangler, 175,328 were sold in America. That was surely a sign of sufficient brightness to assure Nissan that drumming up the volume required to support a necessary new model would prove too difficult.

Timothy Cain is the founder of GoodCarBadCar.net, which obsesses over the free and frequent publication of U.S. and Canadian auto sales figures.

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63 Comments on “The Numbers Behind The Nissan Xterra’s Demise...”


  • avatar
    Lie2me

    Why is it that not a single manufacturer is willing to bring anything competitive to the Wrangler to North America?

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      Because no one will buy something Wrangler-competitive as long as Wranglers are still sold. Even Hummer struggled in that niche: the offroader market isn’t really an offroader market, it’s a Jeep market.

      Toyota could bring over a Chadian “Technical” Edition Hilux, complete with machine-gun mountings that would be better than the Wrangler in every way and it wouldn’t sell here.

      • 0 avatar
        Lie2me

        Ok, I’ll buy that, but since when do car manufacturers not at least try to compete in a lucrative segment? Why are there Tundras when there are F-150s and Silverados?

        • 0 avatar
          Timothy Cain

          When Nissan, Toyota, and Honda owned 16% of the overall pickup truck market in 2014, it translated to 373K sales. When Nissan and Toyota owned 15% of a Wrangler/Xterra/FJ market in 2014, that translated to 31,223 sales.

          • 0 avatar
            Lie2me

            I would think a 30K unit potential would be enough to at least entice some competition

          • 0 avatar
            whynot

            30K a year is not that much- especially when you keep in mind that in order to build a true Wrangler competitor most of the competition basically have to start from scratch. New platform, new off road suitable designs/technology etc.

            As making a vehicle off road capable also has the downside of making it slurp more fuel (usually) and less comfortable, there is less that the automakers can share with other vehicles in their portfolio to spread development costs, which just raises the vehicle price further and makes it a harder sell.

            Even Jeep only updates the Wrangler about once every 10 years. Developing a vehicle in this segment is not cheap, so it is hard to make one inexpensive enough to compete with the Wrangler.

          • 0 avatar
            psarhjinian

            “I would think a 30K unit potential would be enough to at least entice some competition”

            Because it’s a locked-up 30K. There are very, very few markets as solidly entrenched as Jeep buyers: they make Miata or pickup people look fickle by comparison.

            Hummer was really the last, best shot at the non-Jeep Jeep.

      • 0 avatar
        mikeg216

        GM needs to bring back the wrangler fighter that hummer was going to build, then 2008 happened,sell it as a gmc. I’ll consider it.

      • 0 avatar
        akatsuki

        What if Ford brought out a new Bronco? What is the FJ hadn’t looked like a plastic toy (or was the Hilux)? Hell, someone could buy the IH Scout name and bring that back.

        I think the Jeep is iconic, no question, but the market could be attacked by the right product.

    • 0 avatar

      I don’t know what “no one” is supposed to mean here. I cross-shopped Wrangler with FJ and Xterra. The price and fuel economy was more or less compatible between the three. However, Wrangler had significanly better options under the $32k bracket: the 4:1 low and front lockers were impossible to get in the other two at any price. The fuel economy was about the same, even in pre-Pentastar Wrangler.

      Both FJ and Xterra offer roof racks. Obviously you have to have a Kongo Cage or similar workaround in Wrangler, if you want one. So, for an expedition vehicle Wrangler loses, unless you pull a trailer. But my mission profile permitted to pack everything inside.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      Lie2Me, it’s the same reason no one can compete with the Corvette or Mercedes SL – they’re icons, and it’s exceptionally difficult to compete with that.

    • 0 avatar
      azmtbkr81

      I think the off-road SUV market has reached its nadir and is finally starting to show some signs of life. With LR bringing the Defender back (solid axles and all) in 2018 and GMC and KIA hinting at Wrangler competitors it should be an interesting couple of years. If Jeep and LR can prove with their new models that off-road capability and acceptable fuel economy are not mutually exclusive we’ll see more entrants into the market.

      The interest is certainly there, Hummers, FJs, 4Runners, and of course Wranglers all hold their value extremely well in the used market. Its hard to believe but 8-10 year old H3s with 100k+ miles are selling in the mid to high teens here in Phoenix.

  • avatar

    Nissan didn’t lose XTerra customers; they merely converted them over to Rogues. The teenybopper/college girl/single twenty-something chick that gravitated to vehicles like the XTerra now buy Rogues.

    And when was the last time you even saw the XTerra mentioned anywhere?

    Nothing lost here, folks.

    • 0 avatar
      Skink

      There have been a few recent stories and columns regarding Xterra, since the 86 was announced.

      I shopped Xterra in ’94 with other SUVs. It missed the cut because of rear seat entry/exit difficulty: one had to turn one’s foot almost 90 degrees to get through the door opening. That’s too awkward for passengers unacquainted with the quirk. I ended up getting the first of two Isuzu Troopers.

      • 0 avatar

        In ’94? I don’t believe the Xterra was even introduced until the late 90s…like ’98 or ’99.

      • 0 avatar
        mikeg216

        That would be a pathfinder, the xterra was new in 1998 with a turbo charged 4 cylinder..

      • 0 avatar
        VolandoBajo

        Funny you should mention Troopers. The early praise by the automotive press, followed by the XTerra’s subsequent decline reminds me very much of the Trooper being the Car of the Year, and later falling off the face of the Earth.

        And my wife and I, too, also once owned two Troopers, a stick and an automatic, both 4 cylinders.

        But I think there is another story between the lines here…Land Rover bringing back a very traditionally designed Defender. I am old enough to remember when the Defender was a legendary icon, with the Jeep simply being a small two or four passenger, almost no cargo, wannabe Defender.

        If the Defender is done right, and not overly complicated in design and maintenance, my money is on it to eat at least a big bite of Jeep’s Wrangler lunch.

  • avatar

    It seems as though Nissan’s, and just about every other manufacturer’s, offerings have all bloated over the years, as though allergic and bee-stung. The Pathfinder was always a favorite of mine in it’s pre-bloat days. The Xterra took its place and now it goes the way of the dodo.
    I know, money talks, the car makers cannot deny that and there is no point in my bemoaning the Xterra’s fate. Still, I hate to see a lovely vehicle take its last walk so to speak.

  • avatar
    slance66

    As a guy currently shopping SUVs, I am consistently amazed at how the automakers have swung the pendulum too far. The new Pathfinder (drove a 2012 LE last weekend, worst vehicle I’ve ever been in) is not only a crossover, it’s a bloated, CVT equipped, third row mommy mobile. It is a minivan without the sliding door, even looks like the old Qwest. The Explorer fared a little better at least. They could have made a new, updated Xterra that was a Cherokee Trailhawk competitor, and it would sell and sell well.

    The Grand Cherokee and Cherokee (of which the Trailhawk is most in demand, to what I am sure is Jeep’s surprise) prove that there is a middle way. You can make a rugged unibody SUV that isn’t 20 years out of date in terms of comfort and convenience. It’s obvious from the new Highlander and new Rogue that the car makers are realizing they misjudged this.

    • 0 avatar

      Well, the Pathfinder is literally a stretched Murano at this point, so make of it what you will. But to me, it doesn’t drive any worse than the other large FWD crossovers, including the Pilot, Highlander, Explorer (non Sport) and the GM Lambdas. I only drove the latest Sorento—which has grown into a proper full-sizer for 2016—for a few seconds, so I can’t speak on that one.

    • 0 avatar

      If it was the crossover, it was a 2013 or newer. 2012 was the last of the body on frame models.

      Source: I own a 2012 Pathfinder LE. Which I bought specifically because it wasn’t a crossover, and because it was about 10k cheaper than a comparable 4Runner after rebates and discounts.

    • 0 avatar
      Wacko

      Well if you drove a 2012 you my friend drove the last truck based rwd pathfinder. The 2013 are the car bases fwd CUV.

      I just bought a used 2014 Pathfinder SL awd, and took me a few min to get used to the CVT, but as a car guy i am almost ashamed to say I like it.

      I was looking for a 7 passenger awd non minivan.
      I was stuck between the flex and the pathfinder. Flex is basically dead, and my wife hated the looks. the Pathfinder is a generic looking cuv, but great fuel economy(compared to other full size 7 passengers)

      • 0 avatar
        smartascii

        “I was looking for a 7 passenger awd non minivan”

        This right here is why the pendulum has swung so far away from what the Xterra represented. People don’t want offroad prowess or towing capability, but they do want the bad-weather benefits of AWD (be they real or perceived), and they don’t want to be seen in a minivan. In other words, the more you can make it into a minivan (what people need) while making it look like an SUV (what people want), the more sales success you’ll have.

      • 0 avatar
        markf

        “I was looking for a 7 passenger awd non minivan.”

        I just don’t get this thinking.Why give up the convenience of sliding doors (esp. with small kids) CUVs are the new minivan, Mom mobiles and grocery getters. No one looks at these CUVs and think “wow, what a truck” We all think what you just said, “I don’t want a minivan”

    • 0 avatar
      mikeg216

      You hear that ford I want the everest you make for overseas or a 4 door on the f-150 chassis and call it the bronco, give it a modular top like the wrangler and you won’t be able to keep them in stock

  • avatar

    It doesn’t help that they did very little to change it in many, many years…as other vehicles sailed by with newer technology and features.

    • 0 avatar

      Wrangler only had a midcycle update. Got new interior, new Pentastar engine, 5 speed auto replaced the 4 speed. A few knicknacks: larger windows in the plastic shell, the hold-open arm in the gate. Otherwise, it’s completely unchanged since earlier of the current-generation Xterra.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        Right, but the Wrangler is an iconic design, and the Xterra wasn’t.

      • 0 avatar
        ezeolla

        The Wrangler got a new interior though. The Xterra interior is not a nice place to be, even compared to a Wrangler

      • 0 avatar

        The Wrangler is a successful boutique vehicle that lives in its own ‘bubble’ so to speak.

        The XTerra is just another SUV with nothing outstanding except old-school tech and tired styling…and woeful fuel economy.

        • 0 avatar
          mikeg216

          And with the eight speed in the wrangler with the diesel and it’s going to sell like hotcakes! The ceo of jeep said that he wants a wrangler pickup. They could sell 250,00 plus if they had the capacity, but they’re going to need to build another factory in toledo first

        • 0 avatar

          You’re right. Honestly, the Xterra’s rugged styling seems to be what attracted most people to it. Unlike the Wrangler, customers didn’t care about the performance or the ruggedness of the car…and so the Xterra’s competitors are in fact regular compact CUVs like the Escape, Equinox, RAV4, CRV…and Nissan’s own Rogue.

        • 0 avatar

          I read somewhere that the vehicle most cross-shopped with the Wrangler was… the Mustang convertible. The Wrangler is more of a lifestyle vehicle than anything else, something you buy because you are young or want to look it and don’t have kids to haul around.

          I bet at least some XTerra customers were cross-shopping pickups. I considered it when I bought my Ranger in ’06, but the Ranger was considerably cheaper, and I figured (correctly) bulletproof.

  • avatar
    See 7 up

    Any car that lingers on with an outdated interior and essentially zero upgrades for 10 years will see sales decline. Does this surprise nobody?

    Its like Audi saying people just won’t buy hatchbacks because after lanquishing on the market for 10 years, the new updated sedan model sales are up (combined with a pricier A4 and larger size of new A3 — meaning many customers realize an A3 is “enough”).
    Now the A3 sedan may very well sell more, but as stated above, there are many more reasons that it being a sedan over a wagon/hatch

  • avatar
    Mjolnir427

    Anybody notice XTerra sales tanked about 2-3 years after the 2005 model year was introduced? Coincidentally, that’s about how long it took for radiators to start failing and trashing the tranny. Also notice it drops again for the 11 model year, right after the class action was settled? I see a link.
    I worked at Nissan dealerships and I’m CONVINCED that fiasco, and Nissan’s mishandling of it, hurt them badly. I’m also convinced the current CVT fiasco is going to show results in the next two years.

    • 0 avatar

      What current CVT fiasco? The early CVTs (like the one in the first-gen Murano, although our 2005 gave us no trouble through 115K miles) had some major issues, but Nissan has since gotten its CVTs to a point where they are—if not exactly thrilling to have—in it for the long haul.

    • 0 avatar
      GiddyHitch

      You can’t think of any other reasons why sales of an expensive consumer product declined significantly in 2009?

    • 0 avatar
      LuciferV8

      I’m glad you mentioned this point. The Radiator/Transmission issue was really the biggest nail in the coffin for the plucky little truck.

      Reliability is really the number one or two selling point if you want to build a reputation in the truck market.

  • avatar
    Mikein08

    I have owned an Xterra for 9 years. I like it a lot. It’s comfy. It’s
    utilitarian. It’s a gas hog in the city, but not too bad on the highway (22-23 mpg average at reasonable speed). It will tow a decent sized trailer without complaint. It has a decently quiet interior. It’s quite competent off road, and it’s on-road manners are very acceptable.
    Yes, it has not been upgraded much since it’s inception, but remember it was advertised as “Everything you need, nothing you don’t”, which is very
    true AFAIAC. I’m contemplating getting a new one before they go away.
    It’s a great vehicle for what it is. RIP Xterra.

  • avatar
    ZCD2.7T

    Had one as a rental recently.

    Hated every. single. minute. at the wheel.

    Bounding suspension, uncomfortable interior, lots of road noise, not really that roomy. The lone upside IMO is the torquey motor.

    Jeep’s Cherokee (and many other vehicles) have shown that off-road ability does NOT have to mean that a vehicle can’t also feature refinement and on-road comfort.

    • 0 avatar
      smartascii

      I certainly agree that any vehicle whose mission is primarily on-road driving can and should be better at that than the Xterra is. But a Jeep Cherokee (which is pretty much a Dart on stilts under all that styling) will get left behind in rough going by an Xterra. There are trade-offs for that capability, sure, and few people want to make that trade-off. But go drive a Wrangler, and I’m pretty sure you won’t like it, either.

      • 0 avatar
        ZCD2.7T

        “whose mission is primarily on-road driving”

        Exactly. I’d expect no refinement at all in a Wrangler, but it’s primary mission is off-roading.

        The XTerra’s time has passed – but it didn’t have to be that way. Had Nissan cared to keep it up to date, they could have. They didn’t, and not enough people cared about the off-roading part to keep this version alive.

  • avatar
    Jonathan H.

    I recently traded my 2002 Xterra SE in for a 2012 Pro-4X model. This was before the Edmunds article was released. I’m a big fan of the Xterra and I’m actually drawn to the rough-around-the-edges/utilitarian styling and outfitting of the interior. There’s also a solid aftermarket that exists to turn it into a hardcore rock crawler if that’s your thing. All that being said, I wouldn’t fork over the 32+ grand MSRP of a new Pro-4X. I did however fork over $19k for an eleven thousand mile example with leather which I feel is a good value. While I hate to see it go I can understand why it’s such an unattractive option for your average SUV/CUV buyer. If a fan such as myself won’t pony up for a new one not many other people will either.

  • avatar
    Marko

    Sad to see it go, but the four-door Wrangler and the (also discontinued) FJ Cruiser were gnawing away at the Xterra’s niche since 2007, to say nothing of the CUVs that are a better choice for 90% of the potential market.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Good news, I suppose, is that the yokuls who used to invariably tailgate me in these things on I-70 in the mountains will switch to cars with better brakes.

  • avatar

    The XTerra always reminds me of the Ranger. Make a niche vehicle for years with no major updates or marketing, then don’t replace it because sales are slow. When at least part of the reason they are slow is because of the lack of updates and marketing.

    I was actually considering an XTerra when I bought my Ranger, and again when I bought my Pathfinder.

    • 0 avatar

      That reminds me of the entire Maybach lineup.

    • 0 avatar
      Banger

      “The XTerra always reminds me of the Ranger.”

      This. Oh, a million times this.

      It also ought to remind you of the Nissan cube, in some ways — no corporate marketing support for the last several years of its existence, for starters.

      I’ve owned and loved both a final-generation Ranger (recently sold) and now two Nissan cubes in our driveway. To the automakers, I must be the crazy cheapskate who likes too-practical vehicles. To me, they’re eternally shortsighted corporate goons who don’t know a good thing when they’ve got it.

      One of Ford’s PR men actually said those who were buying the Ranger because it was a cheap, fuel-efficient runabout would buy a Fiesta next time they needed a vehicle, while those who actually needed a truck would buy an F-150. Guess where those customers went instead. Hint: Ask Mr. Cain to show you the uptick in sales both of the dinosaur-aged midsize trucks at Nissan and Toyota have registered since the Ranger was killed.

      In Nissan’s case, they completely ceded the boxcar market to Kia, and stupidly, might I add. Kia moves well in excess of 100,000 Souls a year. Nissan doesn’t even want to TRY to compete in that market? At all? I can hear some corporate goon in Franklin or Yokohama now: “But Americans who want a small car like the cube will simply buy a Versa. It’s cheaper, and it gets better fuel economy.” Can’t they practically SEE their would-be cube-shoppers pulling in at the Kia dealership next door and buying Souls by the boatload?

      The cube could have been a contender in this market with a few notable upgrades — disc brakes out back, powertrain changes that would yield better fuel economy, and some tech improvements in the interior, namely. But the biggest flaw was the complete and utter lack of marketing. I understand the cube was still being built in Oppama, Japan, and I understand the exchange rate between us and Japan sucks, as it has for the last few years. That’s part of why Nissan decided to move LEAF production to Smyrna a couple of years ago. How’s this for oversight: The LEAF, too, was built in Oppama previous to that decision.

      The Xterra suffered much the same “let it wither” treatment from Nissan as the cube got, only the Xterra was popular enough in the beginning to earn itself an extended stay of execution. The cube, by comparison to its SUV counterpart, was practically stillborn — and Kia, who arrived late for the baby shower, is now choking on the laughs, booze, and hors d’oeuvres after everyone else left the party crying.

      I wrote a bit more about the decision to buy a second cube here. I explore a few more of these sentiments. Link: http://www.technologytell.com/in-car-tech/12221/cubist-movement-nissan-cube-not-techiest-car-right-car-us-twice/

      • 0 avatar
        jdowmiller

        “Can’t they practically SEE their would-be cube-shoppers pulling in at the Kia dealership next door….?”
        They *literally* can as there is a Kia dealership at the next exit in Cool Springs. It’s visible from the upper floors of Nissan’s HQ building.

  • avatar
    gtemnykh

    Sad to see it go. It was in a niche on its own, of a highly affordable, utilitarian 4×4 SUV. More practical and cheaper than the Wrangler Unlimited with its soft roof and narrow trunk, and much more affordable than the (larger and nicer) 4Runner. Before people argue that the Wrangler can be as affordable, I’ve yet to see any Unlimited model on a dealer’s lot that didn’t cost $30k+, for a pretty basic “Sport” model.

    This is the part of the SUV market that used to be occupied by the bare bones Troopers and Explorer Sports and Blazer ZR2s I’d imagine.

  • avatar
    TW5

    Demise of the Xterra is intentional. The platform is mature. The components are proven. Undercutting Wrangler to steal JKU sales is practically a foregone conclusion, but Nissan won’t make it happen because selling 50,000 Pro-4x $30K (OTD $30K, not base-price) would complicate CAFE compliance, without an accompanying jump in profits. If you’re not earning big bucks from gas-hogs, no reason to jump in with both feet, especially when Toyota have already had a go with the new 4-Runner.

    Without some sort of reprieve, BoF offroad vehicles are going to die a gruesome death. Just think about how much mileage the auto journalism community has gotten out of baseless speculation about methods to save the Wrangler (or convert it into another mall crawler).

    This is a big deal, especially on a continent with millions living near remote mountainous regions. The 114th needs to fix the unintended consequences of the 111th.

  • avatar
    gtemnykh

    I think that switching over to coil springs in the rear, an updated interior with some better quality plastics, and a bit of ad/marketing money, Nissan could have gotten another steady 5 years of sales out of this thing for minimal investment. Maybe the CAFE overall numbers didn’t add up, as others in this discussion have mentioned.

  • avatar
    mikeg216

    New deal for the wrangler factoy just announced, details on Friday including a new aluminum wrangler! Fingers crossed for an extended length wrangler unlimited and a four door gladiator

  • avatar

    Cant touch the Wranglers in North America! It has a highly affordable base model and clients just love the look and functionality of them.

  • avatar
    AdventureSteve

    When I look at the XTerra, I’m not reminded of the Wrangler at all, I’m reminded of the Liberty – a vehicle Jeep doesn’t make any more, and nobody misses. I’m amazed the XTerra held on this long. Many people with Jeeps would love a Wrangler competitor with Toyota or Nissan reliability, but until they can deliver an open air, BOF vehicle with front and rear solid axles and removable interior, Jeep has the rugged/fun/offroad market all to themselves, at least in the U.S. In fact, if Jeep releases a longer Wrangler Unlimited (like the Africa concept), I bet that’s the end of the 4Runner too.

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