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Subaru Brumby reborn? Nissan considering sub-Navara ute to rival Hyundai Santa Cruz, Ford Maverick and other baby pick-ups

Nissan sees an opportunity for a sub-Navara baby ute to take on the coming Hyundai Santa Cruz and Ford Maverick.

Nissan has revealed that it is open to a sub-Navara pick-up for global markets, as ever-increasing emissions and growing demand for trucks worldwide drive carmakers to explore new avenues.

While Nissan actually does offer a range of smaller pick-ups in some countries in Africa and The Americas, they are derived from old and outdated models that cannot meet the highest modern safety standards, like the NP300 Hardbody based on 1997 D22 Navara and the NP200, which is a utility version of the Romanian Dacia Logan that debuted in the early 2000s.  

Speaking to the Australian media at the launch of the Nissan MY21 Navara facelift, Nissan Motor Company senior vice-president for global planning Ivan Espinosa agreed that there is great potential for a smaller, lighter and more car-like utility to take on the coming Hyundai Santa Cruz and Ford Maverick pick-ups due out internationally next year.

“Yes, it is of interest, we’re always looking at the market and constantly monitoring trends as well as customer behaviour,” he said.

“You’re probably right, this (opportunity) exists in some markets globally. (Thinking) of the evolution of trucks, not only the customer demands but also regulatory trends will be demanding lighter vehicles that are more fuel efficient. One way of solving that is through electrification, but the other is working on the weight and mass reduction.

“It’s one of the scenarios that you can imagine would come, maybe there’s a need for something more car-derived that could be of interest to customers. As we said, we are constantly looking at the market and exploring different alternatives.”

  • Nissan NP200 is based on the 2002 Dacia Logan out of Romania, which is actually based on the Nissan Micra supermini of the same era. Nissan NP200 is based on the 2002 Dacia Logan out of Romania, which is actually based on the Nissan Micra supermini of the same era.
  • Nissan NP300 Hardbody is basically the same D22 Navara sold in Australia for over a decade from 1997. Nissan NP300 Hardbody is basically the same D22 Navara sold in Australia for over a decade from 1997.

The prospect of a global light truck will get a massive kick-along when the next-generation Navara due in about 2024 arrives, since it is expected to grow larger and more truck-like in design and proportion as a replacement for both the chunky D40 Navara/Frontier in the vital North and South American markets as well as the existing D23 Navara sold in Australia.

The next Navara may also cost more, as Nissan has already flagged a properly re-engineered and more sophisticated Ford Ranger Raptor-style version that is sure to push the series more upmarket, leaving space for a baby truck below.

The question is: would there be enough right-hand-drive (RHD) demand for a sub-Navara pick-up? The answer may be yes, as from October 1, 2020, a global internal restructure saw Nissan Australia leave Asia/Oceania and join the new Africa, Middle East, India, Europe and Oceania (AMIEO) group instead. This one move more than quadruples the sales potential of coming models - to over one million units annually - and gives the local outfit a much stronger and louder voice.

Previously, Nissan Australia and Thailand were the only big RHD markets in the old regional set-up.

Australians, of course, love a small car-based pick-up, as the enduring appeal of the Subaru Brumby/BRAT (available for over 15 years from 1978) as well as the surprisingly successful Proton Jumbuck (a ute version of the 1992 Mitsubishi CC Lancer-based Persona sold here from 2003 to as recently as 2010) highlight.  

Hyundai would of course love to offer the Santa Cruz, which is said to be sprung off the latest Santa Fe and Palisade SUV architecture, but no sign of RHD production may keep that car-based carryall from coming to Australia.

Then there’s the Maverick, and again, Ford Australia would probably jump at the chance of leveraging interest in the ever-popular Ranger while it wishes for the larger Ford F-150 to get the green light from head office in Detroit; RHD unavailability might also put the kibosh on that one, though the new Maverick does use the same C2 Focus-derived platform as the Ford Bronco Sport and latest Ford Escape mid-size SUV, so hope abounds.

Nissan 1200 ute proved to be an enduring favourite with frugal Aussie buyers. Nissan 1200 ute proved to be an enduring favourite with frugal Aussie buyers.

Nissan Australia, of course, has illustrious form as well as experience offering small car-based pick-ups, as the dinky dear old Datsun 1200 ute from the 1971 through to 1985 illustrates.

This looks like an ever-developing situation, so keep an eye on this space for more info as it comes to hand.