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2003 New York Auto Show: Nissan Introduces Armada - Full Sized SUV

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NEW YORK, April 17 Justin Hyde writing for Reuters reports that at one time full-size sport utility vehicles with a huge V8 engine, more cupholders than seats and the ability to tow twice their own weight were once the exclusive domain of U.S. automakers.

But Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. will jump into the lucrative market later this year with the Nissan Pathfinder Armada unveiled on Thursday, becoming the second foreign automaker to compete head-to-head with the Americans.

Sharing parts and styling of the Nissan Titan pickup, Nissan hopes to sell about 40,000 Pathfinder Armada SUVs a year, part of Nissan's expectations of rapid growth in the United States. Toyota Motor Corp. (Tokyo:7203.T - News) sells three large sport utility vehicles in the United States.

Jed Connelly, head of Nissan's North American sales unit, said he was expecting sales to rise 10 to 15 percent this year thanks to new models such as the Pathfinder Armada, Titan and Nissan Quest minivan.

He said about 40 percent of the Pathfinder Armada's sales would go to current owners of the smaller Nissan Pathfinder SUV and other Nissan vehicles. The remainder, he said, would more likely be buyers looking to shed smaller vehicles rather than current owners of SUVs built by Detroit's Big Three.

"This is just a natural extension for us," Connelly said. "We're not targeting the Ford and Chevy buyers directly. We think we'll attract people coming into the segment."

But as it did with the Titan, Nissan was not shy about making the Armada big enough to compete. The Armada shares its V8 engine with the Titan, which generates more than 300 horsepower. Nissan said the Armada can tow up to 9,100 pounds, more than any competitor. And the eight passengers have access to 14 cupholders.

Wes Brown, an industry analyst with Nextrend, said Nissan was making a statement with the Armada that would likely go over well with buyers.

"When you look at Nissan and its buyers, it's a hip, trendy brand that's making a strong push," he said. The Armada "has an in-your-face, get-out-of-the-way styling, and if that carries through in performance, it will be a sellout."