GENEVA -- Can a cube be streamlined?
That's the issue facing Nissan Motor Co. as it prepares to launch its quirky five-door Cube hatchback in U.S. and European markets. The car, which has not been sold outside Japan, is expected to arrive in North America in 2008 or 2009.
"We will keep the same DNA in terms of design for the next Cube," said Francois Bancon, the Japanese automaker's head of product planning and development.
"But the shape of the Cube is like a bus. You need a big engine" to give it the peppy performance demanded by U.S. and European drivers, he said.
Nissan will stay with an updated version of the Cube's current 1.5-liter, 88-hp engine, which means that performance gains will have to come from weight reduction and sleeker aerodynamics.
Keeping the Cube's quirky styling is essential, Bancon said.
"But we also have to improve the aerodynamics because, today, it is a box," he said. "Cube is a very heavy car, so we are looking at ways to make the next one a lot lighter."
The next Cube will share a re-engineered platform with the Nissan Tiida and Micra.
Bancon hinted that the Cube will carry a price premium in the U.S. market.
"The Cube is kind of a special product," he said. "There is no competition, so we expect people to be less sensitive to price positioning."
The car probably will be positioned between the entry-level Versa and the redesigned compact Sentra in the United States, Bancon said. Both of those models go on sale later this year although pricing has not been announced.
The redesigned Sentra will be priced higher than the 2006 model, which starts at $13,805, including destination.
Bancon said the Cube will be launched in the United States on a regional basis, possibly targeting the West and East Coasts first. He said global sales expectations by region, which are not yet finalized, will determine whether the Cube will be assembled in Japan, Europe or Mexico.
You may e-mail Rick Kranz at [email protected]