Posted Sep 18th 2014 5:00PM
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 centre 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.