Slade believes an updated Xterra could notch 70,000 to 80,000 sales annually, given the renewed enthusiasm for retro off-roaders. He points to the Bronco, which has secured about 190,000 reservations since Ford announced it would bring back the SUV after a quarter century. Ford officials told dealers early last year they expected sales of the Bronco model line to top 200,000 in 2021.
“The Bronco suddenly looks like a new Tesla model,” Slade said. “Everybody wants to put a deposit down.”
Dealers believe a revived Xterra would bring two things the Nissan brand is short on: buzz and profits. Like the GT-R sports car, the Xterra would be a brand-builder — generating consumer attention that Nissan could monetize across the product portfolio.
“The Xterra brought people to our showrooms we hadn’t seen before, and it drove sales across model lines,” Smith said. “We’ve still got people coming in and asking for it.”
With light trucks approaching 80 percent of the market, the notion of the halo vehicle is shifting from sports cars to high-performance trucks and rock crawlers.
“At a time many automakers might be combing through corporate archives for off-road vehicles from long ago, Nissan finds credibility almost right in front of it with the Xterra,” said Tyson Jominy, vice president of data and analytics at J.D. Power.
Dominique said the Xterra played in a unique segment and could deliver incremental volume.
“Customers in this segment are looking for capability,” he said.
Cashing in on nostalgia can be lucrative for brands. “Profitability in the off-road SUV segment is up there next to trucks,” Slade said. “The margin on a Wrangler is double that of a [Nissan] Rogue.”
Dealer wishes aside, reviving the Xterra would be a challenge for financially hamstrung Nissan. The Japanese brand is struggling to revive its U.S. business, which slid 33 percent last year — the largest percentage decline in its history. Meanwhile, Nissan is in the middle of a two-year product reboot that involves updating 70 percent of the portfolio, including a Frontier redesign.
Nissan officials in Japan have dismissed the idea of bringing the Chinese Terra to the U.S. as a successor to the Xterra.
“Currently, that is out of our scope,” Hironori Awano, chief vehicle engineer of the Terra, said in 2018. “The U.S. market is one of the toughest, not just because of crash tests but also because of customer expectations.”
There also is the issue of how many off-road-capable models the U.S. market can support.
Sam Fiorani, vice president at AutoForecast Solutions, noted: “Jeep proved that the market is deep. Ford is looking to expand it.”
But he wondered, “Is there really a market for a third ‘affordable’ off-roader?”