Nissan meets customer needs

While Nissan’s commercial vans (CV) may be new to North America, the company has been in the CV business for 75 years covering more than 80 per of the global CV market.

  • Feb. 10, 2011 4:00 p.m.

Designers of the new Nissan NV commercial van line had to do some thinking to satisfy one of the pickiest consumer segments in the auto industry.

While Nissan’s commercial vans (CV) may be new to North America, the company has been in the CV business for 75 years covering more than 80 per of the global CV market.

The first production models in Nissan’s new North American CV lineup are the 2012 Nissan NV1500, NV2500 and NV3500. They will be available with a choice of 4.0-litre V6 and 5.6-litre V8 engines and in two body styles, Standard Roof (all models) and High Roof (NV2500 and NV3500 only) with High Roof models offering stand-up walkthrough/work cargo area capability.

Because this is a “clean sheet paper” vehicle, designers and engineers put a lot of effort into finding what potential customers wanted.

They had meetings with large fleet owners and managers, small business owners, aftermarket suppliers and converters and rode along with owners of competitive vehicles.

One of the most important things they learned was commercial van owners are the least satisfied of any vehicle segment. In fact, many van owners disposed of their vehicles in favor of light duty trucks despite the compromise of convenience and utility.

To that end, a design goal was to combine pickup truck-like comfort, interior amenities and drivability with a cargo van’s capacity.

Another glaring area was cabin comfort. First, unimpeded ingress and egress was addressed.

Next came making the bucket seating supportive with a wide range of adjustability, large armrests and a truck-like driving position coupled with ample legroom and foot room.

An available centre console (removable) was designed to offer a range of integrated storage features, while the fold-down passenger seat (which is unique to the segment) adds worktable functionality and enhances the cab’s feeling of openness.

The result is a pickup truck-like cab that comes with an added bonus.

Nissan found commercial van owners strongly disliked the “doghouse”, the cover over the engine that often protrudes into the cabin because of engine placement.

Nissan decided to use the common pickup truck engine layout with engine and transmission located ahead of the A pillar/firewall. Not only does this free storage space under the dash but also has the bonus of easier service and maintenance because the entire engine is under the hood.

And like a pickup, the NV models are body on full frame.

If you think the NV is just a van body mounted on the frame of the Titan pickup, you’d be wrong. This is an entirely new frame. The only thing it shares is one cross member near the rear.

But the NV is all about cargo and it offers as much as 3,820 mm/150.4 inches of cargo floor length (without the centre console) and 1,783 mm/70.2 inches of maximum cargo floor width. The Standard Roof model has up to 1,417 mm/55.8 inches of cargo area height, among the tallest in class. The NV High Roof provides a maximum 1,953 mm/76.9 inches of cargo room height, enough for most users to move about the cargo area while standing up straight.

Total cargo room on the Standard Roof is 6,553 litres (234.1 cubic feet) and 9,033 litres (323.1 cubic feet) on the High Roof.

The Standard Roof fits in regular garages and underground parking/servicing areas.

When it comes to functionally, the NV is festooned with storage pockets, spaces and compartments designed to provide secure access to the typical commercial customers’ everyday use objects.

If you look under the front seat, there is a drawer that is big enough for small tools, stationary or first aid kits, while the deep door pockets fit flashlights, legal-size binders and clipboards.

High Roof models offer an available overhead console designed to hold work gloves, legal size binders, safety glasses and system books.

For those in the construction industry there is enough room to accommodate standard size sheets of plywood or drywall between the wheelhouses. There is also a range of cargo area tie-down rings and ample cargo area lighting.

To accommodate aftermarket uses, roof rack mounting brackets are designed for various rack systems without piercing holes in the roof, which can lead to corrosion and water leaks.

The available “upfitter pre-wiring” allows easy access into the electrical system.

Customers wanted, and got, a full-length cargo area inner panel to protect the outer walls from dents and dings from the inside.

There are multiple weld-nut attachment points for shelving and racks requiring no sheet metal drilling. In addition, the NV’s nearly vertical sidewalls maximize the usable cargo space, accommodating common aftermarket storage systems.

Suspension is independent coil springs over MacPherson struts at the front with a solid rear axle with leaf springs and stabilizer bar. Braking is by 14.1-inch rotors front and rear with four-wheel ABS with electronic stability control.

The 4.0-litre V6 produces 261 hp and 281 lb/ft of torque while the 5.6-litre V8 musters 317 hp and 385 lb/ft of torque on regular gas. Drive is to the rear through a five-speed automatic transmission.

I spent most of my time at the Miami press launch of the NV line in a 3500 V8 High Roof. Despite the hefty gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of 9,100 lb, the V8 felt more like a sports sedan with its acceleration, but then again it was empty.

As part of the drive, Nissan made a donation of building materials to Habitat For Humanity of Greater Miami. Part of the exercise was having everyone drive to a Lowe’s and load up the vans and deliver the goods to Habitat’s main storage area. Here again the engine felt strong and handled the load with ease.

But the real difference with the NV is the way it drives like a pickup without the sensation of being ponderous.

Compared to a high roof van made by another manufacturer, the turning circle was much tighter which I noticed mostly when reversing into a parking space.

I did like a lot of the little things like the extra rub patch built into the outside corners of the front seat to lessen the wear and tear of people constantly getting in and out.

Even the sewing line was moved down to the side for the same reason. As for pricing, as you can imagine, there are hundreds of ways to order a NV van. For the Standard Roof, model starting prices range from $30,998-$36,978. For the High Roof it goes from $34,998-$39,988.

As for competition, Nissan says there are only three, GM, Ford and Mercedes-Benz in what they feel is untapped segment begging for more competition.

Nissan figures its pickup-like approach and all they have put into this design is really going to “work” for them.

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