We recently returned from a media event in Florida, where we spent a sunny day testdriving a new truck on the streets of Miami. It was a rather unusual vehicle for us to be driving, and it was a most unusual event. (In a really good way.)
The vehicle was Nissan’s new NV Series of commercial vans currently on sale at select dealerships for the 2011 model year. We’d heard some scuttlebutt about Nissan possibly testing the heavy-duty truck waters in the U.S. market, and while the NV is indeed built on its own HD boxed chassis (not shared with the F-Alpha Titan), Nissan’s product planning folks told us there were no plans to bring an HD pickup truck to market here; the Detroit Three pretty much have a lock on the segment, in their opinion, and they see the commercial van market as a more “open” niche in which to compete with a heavy-duty platform.
And the NV van should be a player. Assembled at Nissan’s Canton, Mississippi truck plant, the NV can be had with either the 4.0L (Frontier) V-6 or 5.6L Endurance (Titan, zoom yeah!) V-8 and five-speed automatic transmission. The frontend runs an independent McPherson-type suspension, while the rear utilizes leaf springs and an AAM-sourced 9.75-inch eight-lug solid axle; towing capacity (with the V-8) is 9,500 pounds, and massive 14.2-inch brakes are standard. The van can be ordered in standard- or high-roof configurations (with 323 cubic feet of storage space and enough headroom for a 6’3” construction dude to stand up in) and can be optioned with cool stuff like extra D-ring mounting points, rear backup camera, eight-way power driver’s seat and so forth. Base MSRP is $24,590, which is lower than anybody else in the segment at present.
Anyway, what made this media event so awesome was what the Nissan folks had us do with the NV. Rather than observing the usual protocols and escorting us to some manmade off-road course to have us thrash the vehicle in an environment it wasn’t designed for (you can’t get it in four-wheel drive, anyway), they handed us a route book and sent us on an errand-of-sorts. As it turned out, our first stop was a nearby Lowe’s hardware store, where we picked up several hundred pounds of construction supplies and small appliances. From there, we returned to a driving route through the mean streets of Liberty City (for real) until we reached our final destination—the Greater Miami headquarters of Habitat for Humanity, where volunteers unloaded our cargo and stashed it in their warehouse, where it would (eventually) be used to rehab and remodel housing for local low-income residents. (And if you know anything about the housing market in Florida these days, you know those kinds of digs are in big demand now.)
Chatting with the folks at Habitat before we departed, we learned that Nissan has donated over $1 million in trucks to the nonprofit over the past five years, as well as $35,000 in building supplies this year (some of which we’d just helped to deliver) and more than $5 million in grant money and in-kind donations. Also, 5,000-plus Nissan employees have volunteered on over 25 home-building projects for Habitat over the past few years. Needless to say, we were impressed with this kind of corporate good citizenship, and wanted to call out Nissan for some well-deserved recognition. We’re honored to have been invited to do a little good work on behalf of Habitat—and the NV van is kinda fun to drive, too. You can see it for yourself at www.nissancommercialvehicles.com.