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Nissan has strongly hinted that the next-generation Navara expected in about 2024 will look markedly different to its under-the-skin twin, the coming all-new sixth-generation Mitsubishi Triton – and might even edge upmarket as the long-awaited replacement for the discontinued D40 Navara.
Contradicting widespread reports that the two mid-size pick-up trucks from the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance are likely to share most body panels, comments from Nissan’s most senior personnel also suggest substantial differences underneath, including the designs of their respective rear suspension systems.
Speaking to the Australian media at the launch of the MY21 Navara facelift – the fifth and most comprehensive upgrade that the troubled D23 series has received since breaking cover in 2014 – Nissan’s senior vice-president of global planning, Ivan Espinosa, said that the two trucks appeal to different customer bases and so will be engineered and styled accordingly.
As outlined in the ‘Nissan Next’ FY20-23 Transformation Plan released in late June that calls for “Restoring Nissan-ness”, among other goals aimed at streamlining product lines and cutting crippling losses, Mr Espinosa also added that Nissan won’t compromise on delivering on the Navara’s heritage, down to continuing with offering multi-link coil-sprung rear suspension if that’s what his buyers want.
“Absolutely (to a coil-sprung rear end), the requirements are set by the companies,” he revealed. “Each company has its own requirements, and this is how we work in the Alliance, because we have a different customer footprint as well as a different market coverage as well.
“So, the requirement for European or Australian customers are not the same as Latin American customers; and some companies have a stronger presence in one market or the other. But the requirements remain unique, and if we have something unique that we as Nissan need, we could think of having that in our own truck and not following fully what the Alliance partners will be doing.”
However, Mr Espinosa stopped short of confirming the extent of differences between the next-generation Navara and Triton.
“They could be (different in design), but I’m not about to talk about the next-generation (trucks) today," he said. "But we remain flexible and our priorities are the customers. If my customer needs something then I will aim to deliver what my customer is asking me.”
With Nissan already revealing that future Navaras will likely adopt the tough big-truck look as per the larger Titan pick-up, it is becoming increasingly evident that only under-the-skin components may likely end up being shared between Triton and Navara, such as internal body and chassis structures, electrical technologies as well as some powertrains.
This strategy may lead to the Navara marching upmarket (as per the successful D40 Navara launched globally in 2004 and discontinued locally in 2015, but still holding the mid-size-truck forte for Nissan in North America as the Frontier) to battle the likes of the Ford Ranger Wildtrak and Raptor, while the Triton may continue to offer a more value-biased offering at the lower-end of the pick-up segment.
Although this is purely speculation only at this point, the Mitsubishi Motor Corporation’s (MMC) mid-term business plan released in July does directly state that MMC will concentrate on its core ASEAN markets “… where it is most competitive”, with Africa, South America and Oceania (including Australia) as “secondary pillars”.
While undoubtedly overlapping in price and specification, such a two-pronged Alliance strategy should ensure the next-generation Navara and Triton do not compete head-on at every price point, giving market breadth and room for growth for each truck.
According to Nissan Australia managing director Stephen Lester, cherry-picking each brand’s unique strengths is part of what the Alliance is all about.
“The way we look at the Leader-Follower approach is leveraging on what the Alliance partners have,” he said. “But the focus is on each company’s strategy, so if in the future we find the need to do something different or unique because the customer is demanding us to do so, this is what we will do.
“So… we are always flexible, and if we need to something unique or specific to address either company’s direction or customers’ direction, we will do so, while at the same time we will keep leveraging on what we can from the Alliance partner.”
Mr Lester illustrated his point with a hypothetical that could become a reality, hinting at MMC’s experience in technologies like plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) for trucks moving forward.
“You can imagine a hybrid scenario – and I am just giving examples and speaking my mind, so don’t think this is what we’re actually planning – where you can think of having maybe the (truck) frame done by one company and the powertrain done by another company,” he said.
“If this works, both in terms of business parameters for each of the companies and also addresses the market requirement, then this is something that you can potentially do.”