Nissan Pathfinder Concept

Nissan Pathfinder Concept

With its most popular models, including the Altima sedan, squared away and selling well, Nissan decided to turn its attention toward the truck market at the 2012 North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

It unveiled concept versions of the Pathfinder SUV and an electric van. They are just two of 20 new or redesigned products set to debut in the next couple of years.

NAIAS 2012

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Nissan Pathfinder Concept

Click to enlarge pictureNissan Pathfinder Concept (© Rick Dole)

Nissan Pathfinder Concept

Click to enlarge pictureNissan Pathfinder Concept (© Rick Dole)

Nissan Pathfinder Concept

Click to enlarge pictureNissan Pathfinder Concept (© Rick Dole)

Nissan Pathfinder Concept

What is it? A preview of the next Pathfinder, Nissan's midsize SUV. It showcases styling cues that will carry over to other models in the lineup.

What's hot? It looks much sleeker than the current Pathfinder, morphing from a boxy truck into a tall wagon. What's underneath is quite different as well. Nissan abandoned the traditional truck underpinnings — called a ladder frame — of the previous model for a carlike unibody structure. Technical details are sparse, but Nissan says the new Pathfinder will have a V6 engine and a continuously variable transmission that will deliver 25 percent better fuel economy. It will also get 4-wheel drive and a decent towing capacity. It will seat seven, like before, and have more legroom in all three rows, as well as more cargo space behind the third row.

What's not? Continuously variable transmissions are great for improving gas mileage, but not everyone likes the driving experience they create — there's no gear changing. Other than that, it's too soon to tell what other faults might lurk.

How much and when? The new production version of the Pathfinder will go on sale this fall; pricing has yet to be announced. We expect it to cost close to what the existing model does.

MSN Autos' verdict: The current Pathfinder is a holdover from a different era, when SUVs were tough trucks that could handle rough terrain. The new Pathfinder is so different from the current one that a name change would almost seem in order — maybe something like Streetfinder or Highwayfinder. Essentially, Nissan is adopting the same formula all automakers have been following to keep this segment from becoming extinct: make midsize SUVs more carlike and fuel-efficient.

Nissan e-NV200 Concept

Click to enlarge pictureNissan e-NV200 Concept (© Rick Dole)

Nissan e-NV200 Concept

Click to enlarge pictureNissan e-NV200 Concept (© Rick Dole)

Nissan e-NV200 Concept

Click to enlarge pictureNissan e-NV200 Concept (© Rick Dole)

Nissan e-NV200 Concept

What is it? An almost-production-ready concept version of Nissan's small NV200 van that borrows the electric propulsion system from the Nissan LEAF.

What's hot? Japan's postal service started using one in Yokohama last summer as part of real-world testing that will help Nissan improve future battery-powered commercial vehicles. FedEx also recently began testing one in London. The production version of the e-NV200 will be targeted primarily at businesses, but Nissan will also market it to consumers in select regions. The regular gas-powered NV200, with its compact exterior dimensions and deceptively roomy interior, has already captured the fancy of many — including the New York Taxi and Limousine Commission, which will adopt it as the new Yellow Cab in late 2013. Adapting the electric motor and battery from the Nissan Leaf is a no-brainer, especially for commercial applications such as delivery trucks or cabs, where the good fuel economy and the simple electric motor's ease of maintenance create huge appeal. The distance it can drive on a single charge will be similar to that of the Leaf, but with the payload capacity and cargo space of the gas-powered NV200.

What's not? Its range on a single charge is severely limited, compared with vehicles that run on gasoline or diesel, especially if it's going to be hauling cargo. The time it takes to charge the battery using existing infrastructure is another huge negative. Some cities and parking garages are putting in fast chargers that will drastically reduce charge times, but they are a long way from being ubiquitous.

How much and when? No word yet on either, as far as a version available to consumers.

MSN Autos' verdict: A small electric van is a great idea for commercial applications, and if the Nissan Leaf is any indication, the e-NV200 will be a pleasure to drive. Making it work at a consumer level is another story, given the current cost of battery technology and the lack of charging stations. But Nissan is dedicated to selling electric cars to the masses regardless, so this is just another small step in a larger strategy.

Matthew de Paula wanted to be an automotive journalist ever since reading his first car magazine in grade school. After a brief stint writing about finance, he helped launch ForbesAutos.com and became the site's editor in 2006. Matthew now freelances for various outlets.