The Death Of The Cube Does Not Mean The Death Of The Box

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Sometimes I feel like journalists, maybe myself included, can turn into hair-trigger panic-monkeys just to get a story. Nissan announces they're no longer going to sell the Cube here? That means I better flip over my desk, soil myself lavishly, and freak out that all cubic-cars are going to be gone. Like in this article here.

The very fundamental question of the article "Does the Nissan Cube's demise signal the end for boxy rides?" is pretty histrionic right from the start, and I feel like we've seen this sort of article every time a distinctive car is discontinued.

Here's what the demise of the Cube really means: people in the U.S. didn't much like the Cube, but there are some boxy cars they sure like a lot.


The Cube's demise is in no way a death blow for the small box-on-wheels school of auto design. If I had to guess, I would say the Cube failed because Nissan watered it down for the US market, and the result wasn't interesting enough for the people who would be interested in such a car, and too weird to pull in anyone else.

The earlier generations of Cube had a much tighter overall design, and really embraced what made the cube fun and special. This was never going to be a huge, mass-market car for the Camry crowd. Nissan should have embraced what made the Cube special, and not given it the blander and needlessly more aggressive front end it got when it came to the US. The asymmetry is always a hard sell in cars, but the earlier generations really made it work, I thought.

Box-shaped cars work and sell when they embrace their own unique mix of quirkiness and practicality. If anything, the Kia Soul's styling has become more dramatic and unusual over the years, and it's a very strong seller. Scion's xB went through this same predicament: the first generation, which was much closer to the JDM Toyota bB it was based on, was a big seller until 2006.


What happened in 2006? Scion re-designed the xB to be more suited to "American tastes" and as such the car became heavier, less practical, less interesting, and less sold.


The article lumps the Toyota FJ and the smaller Hummers into this boxy car category, and I don't think that's right. The true box mobiles are small, 2WD economy cars with bodies designed primarily to maximize space utilization. Their roots are in the tall-boy wagons of the Japanese Kei cars, and their quirky charm comes as a byproduct of their deprecating style for practicality.

Done right, they're honest, fun cars. I have a 2006 Scion xB that is my wife's primary car, and I've both had it on the track and used it to haul toddlers, sculptures, and a full-sized washing machine. It's wildly practical, and the open, airy interior compared favorably to many new press cars I try out.


So, I don't think the passing of the Cube should be taken as a sign that there's no place for small, efficient, highly useful boxy cars in America. I think the real reasons are both more goofy and trivial than people realize, like the fact that the car had something on its dash that everyone referred to as "Cube Pubes."


This does not mean that Nissan shouldn't do weird — but it does mean they should do weird right.