How serious is Nissan about competing in the full-size pickup truck marketplace? Serious enough that it will move up the start of production at its Canton, Mississippi plant so its new Titan can go head-to-head against Ford’s latest F-150 in the 2004 North American truck of the year voting.
Originally, the Titan was to be the last of four trucks built at Canton, following the Quest minivan, Nissan’s new full-sized and Titan-based Pathfinder Armada sport utility vehicle and the Infiniti SUV that will be unveiled early in 2004. But development of the Titan went so well that Nissan moved the Titan ahead of the as yet unnamed luxury-line SUV in the production line.
Nissan’s show of confidence comes even though Ford has decades of truck-building experience that has established the F-150 as the best-selling vehicle in North America year after year after year, and it comes even though Ford has an all-new and highly praised version of the F-150 for the 2004 model year.
But Nissan spent $2 million in consumer research just to learn just what full-size truck buyers not only need most but want most in and from their pickups. For example, Nissan realized that 92 percent of all full-size pickups are sold with V8 engines and that 81 percent have king or crew cab passenger compartments. So the Titan launches, with a tentative on-sale date of December 1, with one powertrain – and a very impressive powertrain at that -- and with King and Crew Cab configurations, both with two rows of seating.
Part of Nissan’s extensive, 12-state research project involved the discovery of consumer needs that were not being met by the full-size pickups already on the market. Thus the Titan will offer several innovative features, including a standard five-speed automatic transmission, a left-rear quarter-panel storage box, a truck bed that can be equipped with a rail system for securing cargo -- and with cargo lights near the tailgate -- with a Crew Cab large enough to live in and with a King Cab that has rear-hinged rear doors that open a full 168 degrees. Nissan also invested an extra $20 million in the new Canton plant just so it could offer pickup trucks with factory-applied and warranted spray-in bed liners.
The reward for Nissan will a piece for the first time of the market segment that represents one of every five vehicles sold in the United States.
While providing a truck capable to satisfying the needs of what it identifies as traditional truckers, the people who use their pickups for their weekday jobs, Nissan’s focus with the Titan design and development was on what it terms “modern truck guys,” folks who use their pickups as commuter vehicles on weekdays and whose lifestyles call for a large truck for hauling jet skis, boats or home improvement supplies on weekends. As Nissan puts it, the Titan fulfills the “price of entry” into the full-size segment by providing true full-size size, power for towing as well as durability and serious off-road capabilities. But it also meets unmet needs by providing style, flexibility, innovation and room for people and cargo.