2007 Nissan Navara to end Toyota/Isuzu dominance?

Nissan's Navara made a underwhelming appearance at the Thailand International Motor Expo, but when it hits the showrooms early next year, the impact it makes on the segment should be anything but.

Now if you don't live in America, Australia or indeed Thailand, you are probably thinking "but it's just a truck, what's all the excitement about a pickup truck?"

It's no secret that pickup trucks are by far the most popular choice of 4 wheeled transport in Thailand. I'd love to be able to dismiss the truck as a crazy choice for anyone except farmers, but the reasons for owning a pickup in Thailand are more compelling than you might realize. But that's a whole other topic.

For now, try to accept that their are good reasons why Thailand is the second biggest pickup truck market in the world after the US.

Navara Interior

And it's also obvious to even the unobservant among us that Toyota and Isuzu are the two most popular trucks in Thailand. Between them they sell in excess of 200,000 units locally per year.

Nissan only manage a fraction of the top two but that's still good for about 70 units a day. The Frontier is a capable machine, but it seems to lack that certain something needed to catch the attention.

Toyota and Isuzu have each earned solid reputations of producing trucks that will run for eternity. Nissan arguably has an equally solid record but, without the market wide appeal of the big two, Nissan has not been able to push the Frontier out of the "workhorse for farmers" role, and allow it to make any real impression in the lifestyle and recreation markets.

How do you make a dint in Toyota/Isuzu sales?

Navara Working

Well, this is the question. Perhaps you need to make a more exciting product, one with dynamic styling and bigger, more powerful engines. This was the formula that Mitsubishi tried with the Triton, and I would argue that the success of this strategy has been limited. Mitsubishi had high hopes for the Triton, but something didn't click and Mitsubishi sit below Toyota, Isuzu, Nissan and indeed Chevrolet in terms of sales.

Toyota and Isuzu are so far ahead in the race that they appear to be untouchable. Both the Vigo and the D-Max offer excellent value for money, solid build and reliability, and most importantly very good residuals. Choosing anything else seems to represent a risk.

To answer the question, if Nissan or any other truck maker hope to give Toyota or Isuzu sales managers any sleepless nights they need to start by producing a truck that beats a D-Max or Vigo in every aspect.

Is the Navara a Vigo beater?

In an anticlimactic unveiling at the Thailand International Motor Expo last week, made it appear that Nissan were unveiling of a box rather than a truck. I was watching and waiting for the box to be removed, or explode, or something...


...but Nissan proudly announced that the Navara was such a "beast that it needed to be kept in a box." Yeah, right. Perhaps Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio thought they would try it out for size and were still in there.

Despite not getting a clear look at the Navara at the show, I can report that the Thai version is identical to the European version.

While pickup trucks are primarily required to be functional work vehicles, and visual appeal is a secondary consideration, I believe that the Navara has hit a very nice balance between looking rugged and ready for work, while remaining attractive in a butch kind of way. The proportions are spot on, and I think very few people would be put off by the design. In contrast the Triton might look cooler to some, but the design might be too showy for others, and ultimately I think Nissan will find the Narava is a more successful balance in this regard at least. But then again, most of the buyers will be Thai, and I'm not Thai.

Navara Front

Okay, so it looks the part, but that can be a subjective issue. It is in the power department that it is harder to argue against the Navara. In fact, the 2.5 liter 4 cylinder DOHC, common-rail turbo diesel unit delivers more horsepower than the 3.0 liter in the D-max, more than the 3.0 liter in the Vigo, and more than the 3.2 liter in the Triton! The the 4x4 Navara's power unit produces 174 hp at 4,000 rpm, and delivers 297 lb ft of torque at 2,000 rpm. Remember this is a 2.5 liter motor. The same engine will be employed in the lower end 4x2 models, but will be tuned down to a more modest, but not any less respectable 144 hp.

This should translate into some very useful real-world performance, providing comfortable levels of response and acceleration around town, as well as providing plenty of grunt for upcountry runs.

The Nissan Navara has all the usual configurations you'd expect, including a useful King Cab version with rear access doors which open in Ford Ranger fashion.

Hit or miss?

I think the Navara will be a hit for Nissan Thailand. The 2.5 liter engine should allow Nissan to price the Navara aggressively while still beating out larger engined rivals in terms of power.

Despite recent face lifts and mid-life updates to Vigo and D-Max, the Navara will be the most modern truck in terms of styling and equipment.

Perhaps the biggest thing it has going for it is size! Toyota's Vigo is currently the biggest truck on the market, but the Navara is bigger. Longer by about 45mm, higher by about 50-55mm depending on specification, and the wheelbase is longer by 115mm. Size matters.

But can it really hurt Toyota or Isuzu sales? Maybe not.

When?

I am sure your local Nissan dealer will be happy to talk to you about the Navara now, but the truck will start to appear in Thailand on January 16, 2007.