Nissan is committed to replacing its Titan light-duty pickup but the next-generation truck might not arrive until 2014. If that sounds like a long time to current Titan owners, don’t fret: The wait could also mean the arrival of an all-new heavy-duty pickup truck.
Last year was a tough year for the Nissan Titan. Full year sales fell 44.1 percent from 2008 and a tentative deal with Chrysler to build the next-generation Titan on the Ram 1500 half-ton pickup platform fell through after more than a year of development. But according to Larry Dominique, vice president advanced and product planning and strategy at Nissan North America, the Titan might be hitting a turning point.
“We had a pretty good December,” Dominique said. “From a market share standpoint, in October, November and December we were up 28 percent from the year before, on a month-by-month basis. On a [market] share basis, we were up 41% for those three months.”
In the fourth quarter of 2009, the Titan sold 5,337 units compared to 4,153 in the same period in 2008. The Titan finished 2008 with a 2.11 percent share of the full-size truck market.
Dominique said improved traffic in Nissan showrooms helped increased sales of the Titan as did a new effort by Titan dealers to target loyal owners looking to replace and upgrade their Titan. New “value packaging” that bundles popular options under a single, lower price has helped limit the need for flat rate incentive spending.
Value packaging and loyalty marketing can only take the Titan so far before even loyal customers start to lose interest in an aging truck – and it’s already the oldest half-ton pickup in the segment.
“My team is working on the best overall scenario for doing the next Titan internally,” Dominique said. “Given the environment, given the economy and that Nissan’s global resources are constrained, we can’t do everything we want as fast as we want. We had a plan that was humming along with Chrysler to deliver the truck by 2011 but that deal went away. It’s a few years away. We’re looking at short term enhancements we can make until 2014.”
The Titan debuted in 2003 as a 2004 model, which could mean the current Titan’s lifecycle might extend as long as 10 to 11 years – an enormously long time for a full-size pickup.
Dominique said Nissan will continue to improve the truck using unspecified hardware from other trucks, like the Nissan Armada and upcoming Infiniti QX56. It’s highly unlikely there would be any changes to the Titan’s existing 5.6-liter V-8 powertrain before its replacement arrives.
It’s the upper body design, tougher fuel economy and stronger safety regulations that represent the greatest challenges to getting final approval to move forward with the next-gen Titan.
To get that next-generation light-duty Titan to market, Dominique and his team are going to need some heavy-duty help. As in, getting buy-in from Nissan headquarters to also approve building a heavy-duty Titan, which could arrive at Nissan dealers before the next-gen half-ton Titan begins production. The trucks would have unique frames and powertrain differences but could share other parts, like exterior and interior designs to save money on development.
“We are studying if there’s an opportunity to bring out an light commercial vehicle truck also,” Dominique said, referring to Nissan’s efforts to develop a unique LCV platform for North America. “A 2500 or a 3500 truck would give us more truck volume and help the LCV guys to grow the business. It’s not definite but it’s certainly a goal and an opportunity for us. We still need to justify that to Andy Palmer (Nissan’s senior vice president, LCV business unit), the Japan team and Carlos Ghosn (Nissan CEO).”
The starting point for the LCV platform that will underpin the upcoming NV2500 commercial van is based on a heavy-modified version of the F-Alpha frame. Dominique said it’s “80 percent revised” to give it a three-quarter-ton to one-ton work capability. To save development costs, the light-duty Titan could share its body with the heavy-duty Titan.
There are still milestones that need to be completed before Dominique can take the full package to Japan for approval. Dominique is going to have to take a package proposal to Nissan’s senior management team for both pickups in a way that makes sense to maximize market value and Nissan’s market share.
After approval, it would take another two years before the new light-duty truck would begin production. The heavy-duty truck might be able to start production sooner.