DEL MAR, Calif. -- Nissan North America Inc. is taking its latest bid for minivan legitimacy directly to the mothers of America, using the 2010 version of clothesline chatting.
The automaker has invited a cadre of established Mommy Bloggers -- or “website parenting columnists,” as they prefer to be called -- to drive the new Quest minivan tomorrow and tell their online followers what they think of the vehicle.
Nissan thinks the bloggers will help spread the word that it is back in the minivan segment -- a market where Nissan has flopped for most of the past decade. The company dropped out of the segment a year ago to focus on redesigning the Quest.
Nissan is now confident that it finally has mastered the segment with a feature-loaded, parent-friendly fourth-generation Quest. The model goes on sale Jan. 28 with a sticker price starting at $28,550, including shipping.
Test drives tomorrow
Tomorrow, Nissan is bringing a dozen authors of parenting-oriented Internet opinion columns to this hilly Southern California beach town, where they will be turned loose on the streets to test-drive the restyled minivan.
“That's the market,” says Andrea Wood, associate director of Zocalo Group, the Chicago marketing firm that handles social media for Nissan. “It's parents -- moms and dads. And these bloggers are people who have a very dedicated following there.”
Inviting the press to test-drive and critique a new vehicle is a practice as old as chrome. And including the sprawling world of Internet media in the test drive is also nothing new.
But Nissan is zeroing in on a phenomenon: the parent social media grapevine.
A decade ago, parents looked for helpful information anywhere they could get it, including dog-eared copies of Dr. Spock's baby advice books. But social media like blogs and chat sites have exploded, Wood says.
‘Blogs are huge'
“So many people in this segment are staying at home with their kids, looking for information about products and technologies and looking for other people who are having common experiences,” she says. “The blogs are huge.”
Nissan hopes to make a strong impact, especially given its 0 percent market share.
John Curl, Nissan North America senior manager for product planning on the Quest, says the automaker has loaded the minivan with family-oriented, mom-driving features. Among them:
•: The “conversation mirror,” a small mirror above the driver's seat that allows a front-seat adult to keep an eye on back-seat passengers -- presumably children -- while driving.
•: A tire pressure monitor that toots the horn when tires are refilled and reach their correct pressure.
•: A half-step at the rear entry that allows smaller people to take smaller steps to climb into the van from street level.
•: Rear storage space that is built into the floor, so that it isn't lost when the van's third row of seats are folded down.
•: Quick-folding seats that lie flat on the floor, with no need to be removed.
•: An odor-neutralizing air filter system.
“Minivans are all about the features,” Curl says. “We want to get the word out to moms and dads that this minivan has a lot of innovative features.”