The Ford Maverick and Hyundai Santa Cruz could soon face an all-electric rival from Nissan.

    Automotive News reports Nissan is considering a new model to slot under the North American Frontier that would be small, lightweight and electric.

    A person familiar with the matter said Nissan is “studying” the introduction of such a model.

    “There’s all kinds of things under discussion. I don’t know that there is any serious discussion there at this point,” said Judy Wheeler, Nissan’s vice president of sales and regional operations in the United States, to Automotive News.

    While those remarks appear to downplay rumours of an electric ute, Ms Wheeler said she could see an electric ute of some sort coming.

    Nissan said earlier in 2021 all its “new vehicle offerings” in key markets like China, Japan, Europe and the US will be electrified by the early 2030s.

    The company was an early entrant into the electric vehicle space with its Leaf in 2010, though it’s taken some time for a follow-up.

    Nissan is readying its Ariya EV crossover for a 2022 launch, which rides a new, ground-up electric vehicle platform called CMF-EV. Unfortunately for the Japanese automaker, it’ll enter a segment that’ll soon be teeming with options.

    A small electric Nissan ute would not only help establish a new segment in much the same way the Leaf did, but it would also give Nissan the opportunity to corner a new market.

    In North America, it’s only just replaced its 17-year old, D40 Navara-based Frontier with a heavily revised version it hopes will overtake the likes of the Ford Ranger and Chevrolet Colorado.

    Its full-sized Titan is faring worse, outsold by the Toyota Tundra and GMC Sierra, let alone the top-selling Ford F-150, Ram 1500 and Chevrolet Silverado.

    Comparatively speaking, the Navara is doing better in Australia but it’s still outsold by four rivals.

    Despite its electric powertrain, a new, small Nissan ute would also harken back to the 1960s and 1970s when small Datsun utes helped Nissan accumulate more market share in markets like Australia and the US.

    Three new segments have seemingly materialised out of nowhere: the compact, car-based ute segment, the ‘global-sized’ electric ute segment, and the large electric ute segment.

    Compact, car-based utes have thrived for years in markets like Latin America but have been dormant in places like North America. Now, the Ford Maverick – related to the Focus and Escape – and the Tucson-based Hyundai Santa Cruz have arrived simultaneously.

    Likewise, the number of large electric utes on sale in North America is about to go from zero to at least five over the next few years with the likes of the GMC Hummer EV, Ford F-150 Lightning, Rivian R1T and Tesla Cybertruck.

    There’s also a fledgling segment of electric Toyota HiLux-sized utes that’s appearing in China, with an electric version of the LDV T60 available, plus the Nissan Navara-based Dongfeng Rich 6 EV.

    Should Nissan introduce this small electric ute, it’d be creating a fourth segment. The Maverick offers a hybrid but no all-electric option.

    While the US may be pickup mad, there’s very little precedent for a small, car-based ute, let alone an electric one.

    The Subaru Liberty-based Baja, sold from 2003 to 2006, was a flop. It came around 20 years after the short-lived Dodge Rampage, Plymouth Scamp and Volkswagen Rabbit pickup (nee Caddy), none of which sold terribly well in the US.

    Even the famous Chevrolet El Camino and its GMC Sprint/Caballero twin used body-on-frame construction and were closer to a contemporary mid-sized car in dimensions, being based on the Chevrolet Malibu.

    Despite this, IHS Markit data has the small ute segment forecast to grow to about 99,000 annual sales in 2023.

    William Stopford

    William Stopford is an automotive journalist based in Brisbane, Australia. William is a Business/Journalism graduate from the Queensland University of Technology who loves to travel, briefly lived in the US, and has a particular interest in the American car industry.

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