Update #1 May-10-2009 11:03 PDT:
Automotive News reports that Brian Carolin, Nissan North America's senior vice president for sales and marketing, is confident that the next-generation Nissan Titan light-duty pickup will be built by Chrysler off the 2009 Dodge Ram half-ton platform despite Chrysler entering a Chapter 11 bankruptcy and partnering with Fiat, a rival to Nissan's European ally, Renault.
Regardless of whether or not Chrysler and Nissan restart shelved plans to swap a small car and a full-size truck with each other, Nissan says it will continue to produce and sell the Titan half-ton pickup.
Last year, the two announced that the next-generation Titan would be built at Chrysler's Saltillo, Mexico, assembly plant starting in early 2011, and would be based on the Dodge Ram 1500 light-duty pickup. Current Titan production at Nissan's Canton, Miss., plant was scheduled to end in late 2010, to make room for a new product line of light-commercial vehicles.
The postponed project raised questions about Nissan’s short and long-term plans for the Titan if it wasn’t built on the Ram platform.
“Our goal is to stay in the full-size market, even if Chrysler doesn’t build the Titan for us,” said Larry Dominique, Nissan North America’s vice president of product and advanced planning, on Wednesday at the New York Auto Show. Light-duty “trucks sell about 1.1 million [units] annually right now. That’s important to us. We could potentially extend Titan production [beyond 2010] to stay in the market.”
Dominique also said that while design work on the next-generation Titan was nearly complete, Nissan could design and build a new Titan on its own, if necessary.
Big trucks, like the Titan, have been hit hard by the poor U.S. economy. Total light- and heavy-duty sales in 2008 were 1.61 million units, down 27.1 percent from 2007's 2.21 million full-size trucks sold and the 2004 peak of 2.56 million.
Nissan Titan sales have faced the stiffest headwinds. The Titan — the oldest half-ton pickup on the market in its current design — saw sales fall by almost 50 percent last year. 2009 year-to-date sales have buffeted the Titan even harder, with sales off almost 60 percent, at 4,582 units sold.
In response to slowing sales, Nissan has dramatically curtailed Titan production. According to manufacturing data from Automotive News, Nissan produced 11,790 Titans during the first quarter of 2008 but only 374 have been made during the same period this year — a drop of 96.8 percent.
“We’ve realigned production for all of our vehicles based on sales performance,” said Dominique. “By reducing [Titan] production we’re making sure we’re doing what’s right for Nissan. Our dealers have worked down inventory to low levels. We’re prepared now to turn on manufacturing volume quite rapidly if the demand is there.”
In contrast, the all-new Dodge Ram 1500 has done well compared to the Titan. Though Ram sales are off 32 percent year-to-date, its sales increased 34 percent in March compared to February.
But Chrysler has financial and viability concerns that continue to keep the next-generation Titan project with Nissan on the backburner.
“We’re still in discussions with Nissan but right now we’re focusing all of our energy in our [strategic partnership] discussions with Fiat and the government,” said Jim Press, Chrysler’s vice chairman and president, on Wednesday at the New York Auto Show.