Good news, everyone! The day is Friday, and the moment has arrived: it’s time for Letters to Doug, your favorite weekly (except last week) column where you write in with a cool, fun, exciting, automotive question, and I answer it in a brilliant, sensible manner that is usually at least one-seventh true.
If you want to participate, feel free to send me a letter at Letters2Doug@gmail.com, which is an e-mail address where I receive a) letters from concerned Jalopnik readers like yourself, and b) lots of spam.
This week’s letter comes to us from a guy named Dave, who’s located in Boston, which is a large northeastern city where people yell at each other. Dave writes:
You wrote in last week’s column that you thought that “Honda for the past few years has been run by the single most cautious group of human beings ever assembled.”
I want to know, which car company do you think is being the most exciting/taking the most risks? I feel like the German car companies used to make the most interesting cars, but it feels like now they only make updates by adding annoying features that are sure to break the moment the warranty is over like lane departure warnings.
Please let me know what you think.
Dave from Boston.
Now, Dave asks an excellent question here, which is essentially “which automaker is the most daring?” Which automaker is most likely to look at the market and say, “I don’t care what the focus groups say, let’s build it anyway?” Essentially, which automaker is the polar opposite of Honda?
Elsewhere in his letter, Dave advances the possibility that it’s Ford, noting that they’ve built a lot of unique vehicles, like the GT and the Raptor. But the problem is, those vehicles are popular. Those vehicles sell. Those vehicles are based on market demands, and Ford is on a streak lately where they find unusual cars that actually perform well in the market. This does not make them crazy. This makes them smart.
To find a truly crazy automaker, you must locate a company who is willing to offer unusual, bizarre, weird, strange vehicles with absolutely no desire to sell them in any rational volume that could possibly justify their existence. And therefore, the answer to Dave’s question is Nissan.
I’ll be honest, folks. I’ve been obsessed with cars my whole life. I’ve studied the industry for years. I’ve worked in many aspects of the business – on the sales side, on the corporate side, and now on the observational side. And no company has ever made me wonder what the hell they were thinking more than Nissan.
The most obvious example is, of course, the Murano CrossCabriolet. Here’s a car that everyone understood would sell poorly. You could’ve stopped on the side of the road, found a chipmunk gathering nuts – and not an overly intelligent chipmunk but a simple, everyday, run-of-the-mill chipmunk – and you could’ve asked him: Should Nissan build a two-door convertible version of their midsize crossover and sell it for forty grand? And he would’ve thought for a second, and twitched his nose, and shuffled around his nuts, and said: That is the single dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. And he’s a chipmunk. He thinks you should continue running the same direction down the street if a car is coming.
But it’s not just the Murano CrossCabriolet. How about the original Murano, which came out for the 2003 model year? I will never forget when this thing went on sale. People had their boxy three-row Explorers, and their boxy three-row Highlanders, and their boxy three-row Pilots, and we’re all waiting for Nissan’s contribution, and it’s a two-row SUV that looks like a pissed-off clothing iron.
And then there’s the Quest. Oh, God, the Quest. In a segment first dominated by Chrysler, and then Honda and Toyota, Nissan has been playing “LOOK AT ME!!!” for twenty-five years with the Quest. First there were the original Quests – and I’m not even going to attempt to understand why this minivan was also sold as a Mercury. Then there was the third-gen Quest, which has possibly the strangest interior of any modern automobile in existence, with an instrument binnacle that rises from the floor like one of those barrels in Super Mario where angry chomping plants would emerge from. And now we have some rebadged Japanese-model Quest, whose primary competition is the guy in Dodge Fleet Sales, and whatever discount he’s willing to give Budget on a Grand Caravan that afternoon.
Remember the Cube? If you don’t, here’s what happened. Scion came out with a weird box thing, and Honda came out with a weird box thing, and then Nissan came out with a weird box thing that looked like a balloon animal. How about the Maxima with the coin slot sunroof? Everyone was doing normal sunroofs, and Nissan thought, Hell. Let’s make it look like a piggy bank. And there’s no forgetting the Juke, which is what I believe would occur if a golf cart mated with a frog.
We could go back through Nissan’s history to find even more inexplicable decisions. The Pulsar Sportbak. The Figaro. The S-Cargo. Whatever the hell this is. Continuing to tout “sportiness” of the Maxima, even after everyone else has stopped making full-size sedans for people under the age of 75. The Titan. Oh, how could we leave off the Titan, which is one of those seemed like a good idea at the time vehicles, until it’s 10 years later, you’re still offering the same old Titan, and you’re selling 45 units a month, all to your own dealerships for parts delivery vehicles.
And here’s the funny thing: Nissan has normal cars. They actually have a relatively solid lineup of staid, everyday, could-be-popular vehicles. But generally speaking, when people are buying a new vehicle, most people don’t even consider these cars. It’s been maybe ten years since I heard the Nissan Sentra mentioned in a legitimate discussion about which compact car to buy. We’re all too focused on the fact that Nissan is still trying to sell the Armada as a brand new vehicle, even though it originally came out back when people were playing with pogs.
Now, if you’ve read this far, you’re probably under the impression that I dislike Nissan for this bizarre behavior. But the reality is, that’s simply not true. I love it. Everyone else is going out and trying to make the most money possible, with the most mainstream cars they can, by appealing to as many people as they can fathom. And Nissan is off somewhere else, trying to figure out how to come up with the weirdest stuff on the market. They’re like the kid on the little league team who’s picking dandelions in center field while everyone else is trying to get the last two outs. And you know what? That kid is pretty damn happy.
So I salute Nissan for all the weirdness. The Murano CrossCabriolet. The Murano in general. The Cube, the Juke, the Figaro, the Pulsar Sportbak. The old Titan, the weird Quest. All of it. I’m so happy you make it. And I’m so happy that it’s my job to make fun of it.
@DougDeMuro is the author of Plays With Cars. He owned an E63 AMG wagon and once tried to evade police at the Tail of the Dragon using a pontoon boat. (It didn’t work.) He worked as a manager for Porsche Cars North America before quitting to become a writer, largely because it meant he no longer had to wear pants. Also, he wrote this entire bio himself in the third person.