Nissan Motor Corp. (NSANY) , doubling down on the momentum of its successful Rogue compact crossover, in May begins selling a slightly smaller version in the U.S., aimed at millennial buyers: It's the Rogue Sport.
The Japanese automaker in the first quarter sold more Rogues in the U.S. than any non-pickup truck model, surpassing better-known models like Toyota Motor Corp.'s (TM - Get Report) Camry sedan, a perennial best-seller, and even Honda Motor Co.'s (HMC - Get Report) CR-V crossover. Nissan has been aggressive in its determination to add to its share of the U.S. market, surging to 10.9% for the quarter, while passing Honda.
Jose Munoz, head of North American operations, has supervised the push -- no doubt prodded by Nissan Chairman Carlos Ghosn, who has never made a secret of his ambition for the company to be a top-tier automaker in the North America and globally.
The Rogue Sport, a modified version of the Nissan Qashqai sold in Europe, is a about a foot shorter and more than five inches lower than the Rogue. It is also 200 pounds lighter. While Rogue is aimed at young families in the suburbs, Rogue Sport should be more appealing to urban singles and couples.
"The smaller crossovers are the fastest-growing segment of the category," said Robin Moreo, a Nissan product planner. Rogue Sport will be imported from Nissan's Kyushu assembly plant in Japan. The vehicle will sell roughly between $21,000 and $28,000, depending on equipment package.
The Rogue name no doubt received a boost from Nissan's cross-promotion of the recent motion picture, "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story," released in December. Nissan executives confirmed that some customers showed up in costume to shop for the vehicle.
Rogue Sport expects to face plenty of formidable small-compact crossover competition, including Honda HR-V, Kia Motors Corp. (KIMTF) Sportage, Hyundai Motor Corp. Tucson and Mazda Motor Corp. CX-3.
To Nissan's credit, the automaker could have borrowed or created another nameplate for the slightly smaller Rogue, perhaps to allay confusion between the two. In this writer's opinion, that move would have been a mistake, a missed opportunity to take advantage of what seems to be broad consumer acceptance of the vehicle's name, value, look and packaging.
Nissan's Juke subcompact crossover -- more of a hatchback, in fact -- has lagged behind Rogue in sales.
Rogue Sport is powered by a two-liter four-cylinder engine generating 141 horsepower, linked to a continuously variable transmission. Driving impressions are embargoed until May 9.