Nissan's Return To Detroit Brings Pathfinder Debut By Facebook

Viewers can check out introduction live on social media site at 8:30AM Monday

It has been four years since Nissan appeared at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. It has been even longer since the company redesigned the Pathfinder, one of its signature models.

Both droughts will end Monday.

Not only will Nissan be on hand at the Cobo Center, it intends to capture early attention as the festivities get under way. The company will introduce a revamped Pathfinder that executives say bears little resemblance to its previous model, which has been left untouched since 2005.

A two-pronged unveiling will take place, beginning at 8:30 a.m. Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn will conduct interviews from the stand. Concurrently, fans of the company's Facebook page will receive sneak peaks at the newest Pathfinder, and receive more updates every two hours throughout the day.

"It's going to be fast and furious throughout the day," said Jon Brancheau, Nissan's senior vice president of marketing.

Nissan's return to Detroit will be capped by the appearance of another former Motown presence absent in recent years. Former Detroit Lions running back Barry Sanders will host a closed-door party for Nissan on Monday evening.

Monday also marks a new day for Nissan's social-media strategy. The launch borrows a bit from Ford's Facebook-only launch of the revamped Explorer in the summer of 2010, which caused a stir because it left out auto show attendees. Nissan's approach is inclusive of both show-goers and its growing base of online fans.

Nissan's overall U.S. sales increased 14.4 percent in 2011 over the previous year, a bump that executives in part credit to an overhaul of its social-media strategy, which began in April 2011. Since then, the company has grown its Facebook following from approximately 190,000 fans to 467,501 today. But their strategy is more than just a numbers game.

"We're growing very methodically," said Erich Marx, Nissan's director of social media. "We can spike the volume really easily, but that's less authentic. ... You wind up with a much less engaged community. We want people who care about the brand."

He said the company's loyalty rate hovers between 46 and 47 percent, and they believe better social-media engagement with current owners can bolster that percentage. Sales of the Pathfinder have averaged approximately 20,000 annually, but have slumped in recent years.

Although he would not disclose a specific target, Brancheau said, "our volume ambition is considerably larger. We expect to dramatically grow the Pathfinder volume."

The price has not been finalized, but the current Pathfinder's price starts $28,570, and Nissan is expected to keep the price around the same level.

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