Topical: Nissan's Okay With a Front-drive Crossover, but Toyota Has Regrets
This morning’s Question of the Day was all about all-wheel drive and which models could stand a dose of four-wheel traction. So far, no one’s talking about the Nissan Versa Note.
Nissan, however, is more than happy to talk about the fact that its upcoming Kicks subcompact crossover will arrive with power relegated only to the front wheels. Hardly a brawny setup for a high-riding vehicle, but the automaker doesn’t seem to care much about the buyers it might be leaving behind. Toyota, on the other hand, harbors lingering regrets over its entry in the B-segment class, the C-HR.
Speaking to Wards Auto at the recent L.A. Auto Show, Michael Bunce, senior vice president for product planning at Nissan North America, expects sales near the top of the segment for the oddly-named Kicks.
“We don’t introduce cars in the U.S. – unless they’re the halos, the Zs and the GTRs – under (the) 50,000/60,000 (annual sales target),” Bunce said.
Geared towards singles in their 20s and 30s, the Kicks arrives next spring with modest power from its sole powertrain (125 horsepower and 115 lb-ft of torque from a 1.6-liter four-cylinder, mated to a continuously variable transmission), 7.0 inches of ground clearance, the aforementioned FWD, and a long list of two-tone color combinations. The automaker expects high fuel economy, predicting a combined figure of 33 miles per gallon. Nissan’s plan is to market the hell out of the product to the youthful urban crowd – buyers who probably aren’t concerned about fording rivers or climbing mountains.
Also speaking to Wards was Bob Carter, president of Toyota Motor Sales USA. While Toyota’s C-HR also sports funky, youthful styling — funkier than the Kicks, for sure — as well as two-tone color combinations, the model’s sales aren’t exactly skyrocketing. Carter claims the C-HR’s front-drive-only setup has hurt its sales potential. Other subcompact rivals, like Honda’s HR-V, offer all-wheel drive.
The HR-V went on sale in May 2015, racking up 6,381 U.S. sales in that first month. Since then, the model’s monthly sales have nearly topped 10,000 units on several occasions, with November’s showing of 6,153 units serving as a 10-month low. The C-HR first appeared on lots in April of this year. While a ramp-up is to be expected, so far the model hasn’t cracked the 4,000-unit barrier. November’s C-HR sales amounted to 3,391 vehicles in the U.S.
It’s no wonder Toyota is talking about adding another small crossover (this one with all-wheel drive and a more rugged persona) to its lineup.
As for the Kicks, a volume floor of 50,000-60,000 vehicle per year would place it well below the HR-V in terms of sales, but (unless something changes) significantly above the C-HR. Bunce doesn’t feel like FWD will handicap the Kicks, as he doesn’t feel that the C-HR’s drive wheels was the problem. He blames price.
“In the U.S. there’s still a great correlation between size and price point, and we look at vehicles like the one you just mentioned where the price point is relatively high,” Bunce said. “When the customer sees it, they’re looking for AWD.”
With a planned entry price of less than $19,000, the Kicks would undercut the C-HR by roughly $3,500 — not an insignificant gap, and not a price point where one would expect all the trimmings.
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