To me one of the biggest surprises of the LA Auto Show was Nissan’s announcement that the Kicks will replace the Juke in the Subcompact SUV segment. Is this a copout for the once-bold manufacturer, or an astute business decision?
The case against
Many will be disappointed by this move, and it’s easy to see why. The Juke was a bold trailblazer, the car to kick-start the renaissance in the Subcompact SUV segment in the US, and a great calling card for the Nissan brand. Yes, the styling was very much love-it-or-hate-it, but in a market full of identi-cars it was a breath of fresh air that car enthusiasts appreciated. That, and the performance on tap from it’s optional 1.6 turbo engine, which turned the Juke into quite the little pocket rocket.
The case for
At the same time, it’s not difficult to see why Nissan wanted to go more mainstream with the Juke’s replacement. While the model did very well in the beginning, its sales peaked early at just below 40,000, and in recent years the aging model has played second fiddle in the Subcompact SUV segment as models such as Jeep Renegade went on to sell more than 100,000 units per year. But it’s really the success of the Honda HR-V that highlighted that, just like in most other segments, it’s middle-of-the-road styling and practical competence that really sell. And with buyers abandoning models from the Subcompact segment for their crossover counterparts, it makes sense for Nissan to replace the Juke with a model with more rounded styling and enhanced practicality.
Still, is Kicks really the right replacement for the Juke?
The final surprising thing about Nissan’s move is that rather than develop a dedicated model for the US and European markets, it plugged the gap with a model it developed two years earlier for the South American market. Now, it is entirely likely that the Kicks, riding on Nissan’s latest V-platform, was from the outset designed with global sales in mind, but Ford’s experience in trying (and failing) to sell the Indian-developed EcoSport to European buyers makes you wonder if the Kicks will be fully up-to-scratch. In time, the customers will be provide this answer.
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