FARMINGTON HILLS, Michigan (Reuters) - Nissan Motor Co (7201.T) unveiled a new 2013 model of its Pathfinder on Friday that it hopes will improve the current version’s lagging performance among large sports utility vehicles in the U.S. market.
The new Pathfinder will be 300 to 500 pounds lighter than the 2012 versions, depending on which options consumers take, said Carla Bailo, senior vice president of research and development for Nissan Americas.
The Pathfinder was unveiled at Nissan’s North American technical center in suburban Detroit on Friday and in New York on Thursday night. Its base model will be priced just over $28,000 when it goes on sale in the United States this fall.
The current generation of Pathfinder vehicles began their run in 2005, making it the oldest model among the five mass market full-size SUVs with three-row seating that Nissan sees as competitors.
The Ford Motor Co (F.N) Explorer is the U.S. sales leader for large SUVs. It outsells Pathfinder by 5-to-1.
The new Pathfinder will also move to a unibody chassis, the last among full-size SUVs to shift from a body-on-frame chassis.
When SUVs were introduced about two decades ago in the U.S. market, they were built on truck chassis. Since then, most mass market SUVs have switched to the unibody construction, which allow for better aerodynamics and lighter weight.
The Pathfinder is the second of five new vehicles that the Japanese automaker Nissan is introducing in a 15-month period, covering the heart of its North American lineup. The first was its mid-size sedan Altima, which just completed its first full month of sales.
“We are going to take our portfolio from one of the older in the industry to one of the most fresh in the industry.” said Tom Smith, Nissan North America marketing chief for SUVs and trucks.
A new version of the Sentra compact sedan comes out late this year and a new Versa subcompact hatchback will go on sale next spring. In early 2013, Nissan will unveil the fifth new vehicle in the string, which goes on sale in the fall of next year. Nissan officials would not offer details on that vehicle.
By the end of 2013, 75 percent of Nissan’s U.S. sales will come from those five new models, said Smith.
In the U.S. market, Nissan is the No. 7 automaker in sales with an 8-percent market share.
Nissan’s operating profit in North America fell 57 percent in the most recent quarter, to $325.7 million (31.2 billion yen) mainly because of the cost of incentives to entice consumers to buy vehicles at the tail end of their life cycles, Nissan said last week when it released its earnings.
Nissan said it expected operating income in North America to improve once the five new vehicles are for sale.
While the Pathfinder’s primary market is North America, it will be exported to the Middle East, Australia and Russia, Bailo said.
Pathfinder is No. 5 among the five full-size SUVs it sees as competitors in the U.S. market.
The 2012 Pathfinder, which has sold 17,865 in U.S. market through July, trails the competition by a wide margin. Ford’s Explorer leads the full-size SUV market with 89,891 sold, a rise of 19 percent over 2011’s first seven months.
Pathfinder sales are up 23 percent in the same period.
After Explorer, full-size SUV U.S. sales with three-row seating through July showed the Toyota Motor Corp (7203.T) Highlander up 18.5 percent at 58,113, the Honda Motor Co (7267.T) Pilot up 5 percent at 64,633, and the General Motors Co (GM.N) Chevrolet Traverse down 15 percent at 54,612.
Pathfinder will be able to tow 5,000 pounds and have room for seven people. It will get 26 miles per gallon on the highway, and 20 in city driving, Nissan said.
The new Pathfinder has a continuously variable transmission and a 3.5-liter, six-cylinder engine with 260 horsepower.
Reporting By Bernie Woodall; Editing by Andrew Hay