• Image Credit: Nissan
  • Image Credit: Nissan
  • Image Credit: Nissan
  • Image Credit: Nissan
  • Image Credit: Nissan
  • Image Credit: Nissan
  • Image Credit: Nissan
  • Image Credit: Nissan
  • Image Credit: Nissan
For many enthusiasts, the concept of the ute – a car with a pickup bed – is somehow irresistibly appealing. On paper, it promises the marriage of a truck's utility and a car's superior driving dynamics, and for that reason alone, we'd love to see more of them. Yet while other parts of the world get them in good numbers, North America doesn't ever see them – at least not for long. Based on what we've seen of late, though, that's not due to a lack of motivation on the part of engineers.

BMW wowed us several years ago with an M3 ute, and earlier this year, some interns converted a Mini Paceman into the pickup-bodied Paceman Adventure. Loathe to let their rivals in Munich and Oxford have all the fun, Nissan has built its very own car-based pickup. Meet Sparky, the world's first Leaf Frontier.

Like the M3, this all-electric ute is used as a parts hauler for Nissan's engineering teams at its sprawling Stanfield, AZ tech center and proving grounds. "We tried to keep it a secret and be exciting for everybody. But we have visitors and they come and they see that truck and they go straight to 'What is it?' and they start looking at it, and it makes great conversation," Nissan's Roland Schellenberg said in a statement.

Schellenberg completed the months-long team-building project alongside fellow engineer Arnold Moulinet. "After [Schellenberg] told us it was going to be the Leaf that we would redo, I went home and stayed up til like four in the morning making all kinds of designs for what would work. We basically got the stock Leaf, and after reviewing a bunch of designs of pickup trucks that we have here at Nissan, we decided to go with a Frontier bed," Moulinet said in a statement. "My main job here is working on rough-road vehicles, rough-road testing. I'm pretty good at taking cars completely apart to the bare frame and putting them back together again to resume testing."

Take a look below for the video on the impetus behind Sparky, the build process and to see the final result in action.
Show full PR text
VIDEO REPORT: NISSAN ENGINEERS MARRY A LEAF TO A FRONTIER FOR USE AROUND THE SHOP

STANFIELD, Ariz. – If necessity is the mother of invention, engineers fuel that fire at Nissan's Technical Center in Stanfield, Arizona. Here engineers are plentiful. They love to build things, test things and tinker with things. This team thinks a lot about "why not?" Recently they created a one-of-a-kind electric vehicle to haul supplies and people around on the tech center property.

"We tried to keep it a secret and be exciting for everybody. But we have visitors and they come and they see that truck and they go straight to 'what is it?' and they start looking at it, and it makes great conversation," said Roland Schellenberg, Nissan Durability & Reliability.

This is Sparky, as he's known around the campus. It is a Nissan LEAF crossed with a Nissan Frontier, brought to life by Nissan's Roland Schellenberg and Arnold Moulinet. Sparky is a one-of-a-kind creation with a specific mission in life. He supports operations at Nissan's proving grounds located on 3,050 acres in Stanfield, Arizona.

"I needed a project for a team building activity so we can bring the team together. We had a need for a truck. Something to drive around, a shop truck," said Schellenberg.

It was months in the making, and there were many considerations, but Arnold Moulinet, Schellenberg's colleague in the Durability & Reliability group, had the right tool-set to fabricate the vehicle into reality.

"After he (Schellenberg) told us it was going to be the LEAF that we would redo, I went home and stayed up till like four in the morning making all kinds of designs for what would work. We basically got the stock LEAF, and after reviewing a bunch of designs of pickup trucks that we have here at Nissan, we decided to go with a Frontier bed. My main job here is working on rough-road vehicles, rough-road testing. I'm pretty good at taking cars completely apart to the bare frame and putting them back together again to resume testing," said Moulinet.

The low-desert terrain at Nissan's technical center provides an ideal environment to test vehicles for hot weather, heat durability, engine cooling and air conditioner performance. There is also a 5.7-mile high-speed oval and four individual road courses designed to test vehicle durability, reliability and ride comfort. Sparky now is part of the support team to help operations run smoothly.

"Being a slick truck, and not so tough, I see it as a boy – but a boy with a heart. It's something that we all put together. We all share. So it has a little bit of everybody in there," said Schellenberg.


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