The global head of Nissan light commercial vehicles says although the proliferation of electrified and autonomous passenger vehicles is imminent, the uniqueness and wide-ranging flexibility of pickups ensures they will be needed "forever".
Speaking exclusively to CarAdvice at the Japanese car maker’s global headquarters in Yokohama, Nissan LCV head Philippe Guerin-Boutaud said he believes pickups, or utes, have become so multi-purpose and popular that, as a direct result, they are vehicles that are now, and will forever be, permanently needed and wanted.
“The advantage – sometimes disadvantage, but most of the time advantage – of a pickup is that you have like a Swiss knife; all in one,” Guerin-Boutaud said.
“So, you have with the new Navara, very nice comfort, but at the same time, you have towing 3500kg and one-tonne payload. So, you can go from one point to the other one.
“You can use your ute – I know in some cases in Australia – just to commute with the children. Okay, do you need [a ute for] this? Perhaps a Serena [people mover] will be enough. But you’re so proud of having a ute that you want to show it.
“And then, during the weekend, you go camping or fishing, and so it becomes a kind of multi-purpose vehicle. But you can tell me, ‘Oh, but you have a multi-purpose van’. So, what else?
“What else is 4x4. This starts being a bit more complex. And what else? What else is you can put in the bed whatever you want. Now, you start to be far from a classic van. So, this kind of vehicle that really allows use to be from, let’s say, pure family usage to very workhorse usage, is still unique.
“And what I think, is the number of pickup is going [up]. But basically, I think that there is, kind of, so to say, ‘forever’, a need for a car that is capable to join, at the same time, workhorse capability and family usage. And there is, so to say, permanent need.”
Both developed and developing markets are benefitting from the filtering-down of certain technologies Nissan includes under its ‘Intelligent Mobility’ umbrella. And, while the French-born Guerin-Boutaud says that technology such as autonomous drive (debuted for Nissan in the Serena) may not be an ideal fit for every application, sales in the pickup segment will rise alongside technology improvements.
“If you are in a 4x4 situation, probably this is not the best usage of the autonomous drive system,” Guerin-Boutaud said.
“But [as an example], when we thought about the around-view monitor, initially, everyone was thinking, ‘Oh yes, a one-tonne pickup is very big, not so easy to park, so if you have this kind of device, it’s perfect’. In fact, this is one usage.
"When you’re off road, you push the button to have the permanent control of the camera, and you see branches, you see a rock, you see whatever you need. So, this is what we call Intelligent Mobility, because from a customer or driver point of view, you really feel safe. You really feel you are in control.
“What I see in Australia, in the US, in regions where the development is quite advanced, you could have thought, ‘Okay, no need for this kind of car anymore, it’s for other developing countries,’ and it’s not the case.
“And in Europe with Navara, we are conquering a lot of customers, and there is not so much room for off road, but we are conquering. So, the need for these kind of multi-purpose intelligent cars with lots of intelligent features is deeply rooted.”
Does the light commercial vehicle chief envisage a time when the once-humble ute becomes a brand’s most emotive model – taking over from the traditional sports car?
“Sports car, I cannot say – it depends on what you call a sports car. But at least I can see in many regions, that the ute is becoming [an] object of desire, if I can say that. More than even an SUV.
“Because okay, SUV is not bad, but I can do more with my ute. So, for us, that’s why we want to concentrate all Nissan intelligent expertise in these vehicles, because we think that it’s not only, as we mentioned, a workhorse, but it’s also becoming a ‘trendy’ car, so to say.”
The updated 2017 Nissan Navara (no longer attached to the NP300 moniker), highlighted by revisions to its five-link, coil-sprung rear suspension – found in dual-cab models but not others, which retain a more conventional leaf-spring configuration – went on sale last month, with prices starting at $26,490 (before on-road costs) for dual-cab variants.
Nissan also revealed its battery pack-infused Navara EnGuard concept at the IAA commercial vehicle show in Hanover in September (pictured top).
What do you think? Will pickups and utes continue to survive in a world of autonomous and connected vehicles? Let us know in the comments section below.