Craig’s interview with Chrysler CEO Al Gardner contained an admission that kind of shocked me: The Nissan Quest beat Chrysler’s Town & Country to win the top ranking in J.D. Power’s Initial Quality Survey for 2015 model minivans. On top of that, it turns out the Quest also took Auto Pacific’s 2015 Vehicle Satisfaction Award in the minivan segment. So why doesn’t anybody buy it?
To find out, I e-mailed Nissan North America and asked why the Nissan Quest experiences sales numbers in the hundreds every month while other minivans sell thousands or even tens of thousands of copies each month. Here’s what a Nissan spokesperson, who did not want their name included in this story, told me in response:
“As to why we don’t sell more Quests – that’s an excellent question. We find that the minivan segments is declining, as a whole, and customers are generally moving away from Minivans towards SUVs and CUVs. You probably recall that a similar migration occurred from Station Wagons to Minivans 30-some years ago.
“While Minivans are still an excellent fit for some customers, there is far more consumer demand for vehicles such as Altima, Sentra, Rogue, Pathfinder and Versa. Resources within the company are allocated to different models based on demand and projected demand, and we’ve chosen to place our investment on select vehicles in large and growing segments.
“Another important consideration in Quest’s retail numbers vs. the competition is that our vehicle has a premium position. Therefore, you will see us offering limited pricing incentives on our vans, and we sell few Quests to rental fleets.
“Quest remains an important part of our lineup, though, and for some customers, it’s a perfect fit for their needs and life stage.”
Having heard that “official” explanation, here’s my armchair-quarterback theory: It’s because the Quest is still built in Japan.
Think about it: The JPY-USD exchange rate sucks. Shipping costs suck. Labor costs in Japan suck compared to most other countries where Nissan builds cars. And trying to make a decent profit on a made-in-Japan minivan without pricing yourself completely out of the segment here in America must suck, too.
So, with all this suckage, Nissan probably looks at the situation and says, “Why would we spend more money trying to get people to buy this?” Because, in case you haven’t noticed, the Quest doesn’t show up in Nissan commercials or magazine ads like, ever.
It’s a situation I, a man who parks two now-discontinued (and also built in Japan) Nissan cubes in his driveway, know all too well. The cube won raves from those who bought it and even got a little praise from autojournalists who, in general, don’t “get” slow, boxy vehicles. After an initial marketing push in 2009, the cube all but disappeared from Nissan advertising on TV, in print, and online.
Summarily, the also-boxy, also-subcompact Kia Soul started eating the cube’s lunch in the sales race thanks to a thickly applied, hamster-infested advertising campaign. No surprise the Kia Soul sold 145,316 copies in 2014, the last model year the cube was still officially imported to the States, while the cube moved just 3,785 copies. The Soul moved nearly three times as many copies in December 2014 alone as the cube did all year.
Similarly, the Quest gets trampled by others in the minivan sales race. Al Gardner’s Chrysler Town & Country was down a substantial 43%, but still moved 6,440 units in July. Its sister van that reportedly will soon cease to exist, the Dodge Grand Caravan moved 7,566 units that same month. And the Quest’s fellow Japanese-brand competition pulverized the van in sales numbers, with the Honda Odyssey moving 12,851 and the Toyota Sienna moving 11,416 units in July. How many units did the Quest move in July? A whopping 895.
The Quest does not win every comparison of minivans, sure. It lacks the stowable seats of some of its competitors, which loses points for the van in many reviews. Its interior is slightly smaller than its competitors, particularly in its width, which also loses the Quest some respect from my fellow auto reviewer types here in bigger-is-better America. But it has a unique style and positively Infinitiesque interior appointments, particularly when trimmed in leather. Furthermore, everyone who buys one tends to fall in love with it — a trait we cubists share with Questies.
Its diehard following combined with its ability to win awards even as its sales numbers slump into oblivion make me think the Nissan Quest may be the best minivan nobody buys.
To the Nissan spokesman’s point, it’s clear CUVs are far more popular than minivans today. But I can’t help but wonder how much of the remaining minivan market Nissan cedes to its competition because it refuses to market the Quest. There have been no “Swagger Wagon” or psychedelic “Dad Van” ad campaigns for the Quest, after all.
How many of the 39,168 minivans sold in the US among all of the above listed automakers in July could have been Quests if the van had more of a marketing presence? We’ll never know, just as I’ll never know whether the cube could have stolen a substantial part of those 145,316 Kia Soul sales.
Know who else will never know those things? Nissan.