11 February 2005

Nissan will soon have the largest 4x4 line-up of any manufacturer, underpinned by a new baby off-roader, which goes into production late next year (see gallery). The company is spending £223m on the Sunderland plant to produce the production version of the Qashqai ‘compact-crossover’ revealed at the 2004 Geneva Motor Show. Codenamed the P32L, the new car is being designed at Nissan’s London design centre under design boss Satoru Tai, engineered at Nissan’s Cranfield facility and built in Sunderland. Nissan has also underlined its 4x4 ambitions with a concept vehicle, the Zaroot (above and right), destined for a public unveiling at the Geneva show in March. The Zaroot is a re-interpretation of the heavy-duty 4x4 and was unveiled alongside the new Pathfinder and Navara crew-cab pick-up. Although Zaroot has the chunky exterior looks of its production sister cars, the impressive interior wouldn’t be out of place in an executive car. Nissan denied it was a serious indication of another spin-off from the Pathfinder/ Navara chassis.

Nissan has revealed a preview of the production design for the Qashqai/P32, a sharp-looking combination of 4x4 and MPV, not unlike a 4x4 interpretation of the Seat Altea. It will be offered with both front- and all-wheel drive.

The P32 is based on the new Renault-Nissan’s co-developed ‘C’ platform, which will eventually underpin the next Mégane family. Nissan reckons that it will build 130,000 P32s each year - a stark contrast to the annual production of the Almera (around 60,000) and Primera (50,000). With the Micra C+C cabrio and forthcoming Tone mini-MPV on full stream, Nissan says that Sunderland will be heading towards 400,000 cars a year in 2007.

The announcement of the green light for the P32 project was attended by secretary of state for trade and industry Patricia Hewitt. The DTI awarded £5m of Regional Selective Assistance to the project.

Colin Dodge, senior vice president manufacturing, Nissan Europe, told Autocar that it was still debating whether to replace the Primera with another ‘me too’ mainstream product. Dodge admitted frustration with producing four generations of Primera without a market breakthrough.

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