LOS ANGELES -- Nissan Motor Co. will take another stab at minivans early next year with a redesigned Quest, the nameplate that fell short of the company's hopes seven years ago.
At the van's debut at the Los Angeles Auto Show, Nissan officials vowed they have learned from past mistakes and expect better results this time.
"We didn't do very well with the generation of Quest that we launched back in 2003," said Larry Dominique, Nissan North America's vice president of product planning.
Nissan hopes that a more soccer-mom-friendly interior will help woo buyers this time. Instead of having second- and third-row seats that can be removed, the Quest's seats fold flat onto the van's floor.
Said Dominique: "We want to make it easy for the driver to create rear cargo space without having to remove the seats. Not too many 5-foot-2 women can lug 65- or 75-pound seats out of the van."
Nissan intends to reach out to women for marketing purposes as it relaunches the Quest. This month, Nissan plans to invite a group of women who publish Web blogs about parenthood and child rearing to drive the Quest and publish their reviews.
The 2011 Quest will have a sticker of $27,750, excluding freight charges, which have not been announced. It goes on sale early next year.
The original Quest was part of a major U.S. product initiative that coincided with the launch of the $1.4 billion multivehicle assembly plant in Canton, Miss.
"We veered off course a little bit," Dominique said. "We launched with quality problems and never regained momentum."
The 2003 minivan also attempted to turn heads with a flowing body design, long nose and edgy interior that featured instrument gauges in the center of the front console.
"With this Quest," Dominique said, "we want to step back to the core reasons minivans are in the market. That's utility and functionality. We went with more minivan proportions, with a more traditional look, with a shorter front."
The previous Quest peaked at annual sales of 46,430 in 2004 -- half of what planners sought -- before trailing off year after year. In 2009, Quest sales fell below 9,000.
Nissan hopes the new version will put the Quest into serious contention with its two bigger import competitors: the Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna. The Odyssey sold 177,919 in 2006. Sienna sales also peaked that year at 163,269.
Last year in the minivan segment, Odyssey sales were 100,133; Sienna, 84,064; Dodge Caravan and Grand Caravan, 90,666; and Chrysler Town & Country, 84,558.
Al Castignetti, Nissan Division vice president, won't predict the Quest will reach 100,000. But he said it will be "in the high thousands, competitive with Toyota and Honda."
Minivans aren't the rage they once were. The minivan market has shrunk from a peak of about 1.3 million a year to around 500,000 now.
"With this Quest, I believe we'll hit the center of the marketplace. We're not an obscure-looking van," Castignetti said. "We're not polarizing in any way."