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Car Advisor Tamotsu Todoroki

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The Nissan Caravan NV350 A Good Alternative To Toyota HIACE - Vol.177

For several years, the minibus and van market was dominated by the Toyota HIACE and its descendents. After its initial appearance in 1967, Toyota has redesigned and refitted the HIACE so that it has been used as a passenger van, a cargo van, a minibus, an ambulance and the body itself has been used to manufacture various truck types throughout the years. It has been a standard and reliable seller in the world marketplace for Toyota for nearly fifty years.

With this in mind, Nissan designers and engineers set out to create not just a competitor for the HIACE vans; instead, they intended to go one further and improve on their existing Caravan lines (known as Urvan in foreign markets) so they would surpass the HIACE and become the world's leader in the minibus and extended van market.

Hoping to capitalize on the gradual narrowing of the field in sales since 2004, Nissan unveiled the Nissan Caravan NV350 at the 2011 Tokyo motor tradeshow. The Nissan representatives were not exactly shy about how proud and excited they were about the new Caravan, even proclaiming it as the HIACE's newest and best competition. Automobile critics and reviewers have largely agreed with them.

Right away, one can see where Nissan's focus was centered. The Caravan is bigger, more powerful and yet is still one of the leaders in fuel efficiency in its class. The cargo area of the redesigned Caravan is a full three meters long (almost ten feet), which is by far the most in this class of vehicle.

On top of this, Nissan has also redesigned the engines under the hood, installing either a 2.0 liter or a 2.5 liter engine. The Caravan or Urvan was already known for being a more powerful alternative to the HIACE and similar Toyota vehicles. Now, with the smaller engines installed in the Caravan line, the Nissan Caravan model offers some of the best fuel-economy in its class. Based on Japan's JC08 test model, the new Caravan comes in at an impressive 12.2 kilometers per liter (just under 29 miles per gallon). While this may not seem like much when compared to the fuel economy of some lower cars, when comparing the Caravan's numbers to those of the HIACE, it is clear to see that Nissan has tried to separate themselves not just from Toyota, but from the rest of the field as well.

In an additional attempt to modernize the minibus offering, Nissan has included amenities that are normally reserved for smaller cars and trucks. The new Caravan will offer a push start ignition as well as a smart key, among other options that drivers have grown accustomed to in different vehicles. Once more, Nissan is clearly trying to distance itself from Toyota's HIACE, especially with these additional options. The HIACE, due to a lack of anti-theft implements, remains high on the stolen vehicles list in Japan, since there is little to no theft-deterrent incorporated into the HIACE's design.

For years, Toyota has dominated the field when it comes to the minibus and extended van marketplace, both in Japan and abroad. However, in recent years the gap between the top seller, the Toyota HIACE, and the second place vehicle has been narrowing. With the improvements to the cargo space, the driving experience, and the fuel-economy, Nissan has positioned itself to assume the leadership of the minibus niche. Not only is the new Nissan Caravan/Urvan a good alternative to the Toyota HIACE, it outpaces the HIACE in several areas that are sure to appeal to the minibus and cargo van drivers of the world.