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Nissan rolls out Rogue, new crossover SUV

The 2008 Nissan Rogue Crossover SUV, and the planning, marketing and strategizing that went into it, was unveiled recently at Nissan Design America in La Jolla.

The design studio, located at 9800 Campus Point Drive since 1979, creates vehicles specifically for the North American market. Recent car models the studio has had a hand in developing include the all-new 2007 Altima and Sentra, the Titan full-size truck, Armada full-size SUV, Infiniti QX56 full-size luxury SUV and the 350Z.

Nissan’s La Jolla facility is now a full-production studio capable of handling all phases of automotive design and development from exploration to production. Bruce Campbell, the studio’s vice president of design, said the La Jolla design headquarters was carefully selected, even though Nissan knew, going in, that it would be a crowded marketplace.

“We looked everywhere from Europe and Italy to Los Angeles,” he said, “but we decided on La Jolla because it was in the technical center of San Diego with Scripps Hospital across the street, and UCSD down the road and Qualcomm and other companies. The reason we chose to be here 27 years ago is, if something’s going to happen in the world ... it’s going to happen in Southern California.”

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Campbell noted automotive product design is done with lots of help from input solicited from car consumers of all stripes. “We don’t just have an elite group of people come,” said Campbell. “We get great comments from people who aren’t close to the design, aren’t close to the product.”

Regarding the Rogue, Campbell added that designers wanted to put a new creative twist on the design of the crossover vehicle. “The idea was to give it a fresh look,” he said. “What we were trying to create was a mini van that you want to have, versus a mini van that you have to have.”

Campbell noted there is a relatively long lead time between conceptualization and production of any automotive product. “Very early development on what eventually became the Rogue actually started in 2002,” he said.

Amy Casey, senior manager of advanced planning and strategy for Nissan North America, said every one of the company’s automotive products goes through exhaustive planning and marketing research. Many factors are evaluated, including the demographics and socio-economic status of the product’s target market. “Our department’s goal is to monitor and synthesize a whole bunch of trends well beyond automotive,” Casey said.

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One of the ways that’s done, Casey said, is via brainstorming and test marketing of the product. “We think about what the future market is going to look like,” she said. “We come up with hypotheses, then gather all this information from customer research to validate those hypotheses.”

In the case of the Rogue, Casey said Nissan hypothesized that this was a crossover product which would appeal most strongly to Generation X, post-baby boomers born from 1965 to 1976, who are now going through a lifestyle change as they enter their child-bearing years. She added Nissan’s exhaustive research about Gen Xers pointed the way toward how best to market the vehicle to that population sector.

Casey said: “This generation, which has been kind of forgotten, is transitioning into a family lifestyle. They’re different than the generation before. To Gen Xers, status is not about buying an expensive item. They’re really looking for rich experiences.”

Casey added Gen Xers reject many of the values and trends of the previous generation. Gen X males, for example, who are struggling with the transition to parenthood, are very family centered, yet want a vehicle with style and panache so they’re not thought of just as driving a car meant for a dad.

“Gen Xers were not ready to make that leap to a mini van that was too big,” pointed out Casey, “a mini van they really associated with the previous generation.”

So the challenge for Nissan planners and engineers was to come up with a body style for a crossover SUV which would appeal especially to Gen Xers, pushing the boundaries of traditional body style to merge the concept of a utility vehicle with a sports car concept.

The end result of that “marriage” of styles and tastes became the Rogue, which is projected to cost about $20,000 and will go on sale in September 2007.

Rogue’s aggressive, performance-oriented styling, powerful engine, responsive handling and driver-focused cockpit combine with its utility to create a vehicle that shifts the way buyers, especially younger buyers, think about small crossovers.

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The 2008 Nissan Rogue will be available in two models, Rogue S and Rogue SL, each with a standard 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine, Nissan’s advanced Xtronic Continuously Variable Transmission, Vehicle Dynamic Control and 4-wheel disc brakes with Anti-lock Braking System.

Rogue’s interior, like its exterior, is designed to stand out in class with its sophisticated integration of a cockpit-like driver’s space and exceptional utility. Rogue’s instrument panel layout and steering wheel are designed for easy readability and operation while also providing a sporty look and feel, with reddish-orange illumination and silver gauge surround rings.

Ken Kcomt, director, Truck/SUV/LCV Planning for Product Planning for Nissan, recently conducted a walking tour of Nissan’s La Jolla design center offering a close-up inspection of a prototype Rogue.

Pointing out numerous stylistic touches, like compartmentalized trunk space that offers creative storage solutions, a deeper glove box, and a sportier interior, Kcomt noted: “This is a very fresh interpretation of a small crossover. It’s much more modern, sporty. Unlike our competitors, it’s more sports-car oriented. We have two-wheel drive and all-wheel drive versions for the road. But the driving experience is really where this product is going to differ. We really tried to deliver something that was very fun and very different than the other crossovers that are out there.”


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