First Drive: 2008 Nissan Titan
By: Mike Levine Posted: 06-04-07 02:45 PT
© 2007

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Since its debut in late 2003, the Nissan Titan has struggled on several fronts in the battle for the hearts, minds, and wallets of full size truck buyers – especially in three key areas.

First, at Job One Nissan lacked a track record as a full size truck manufacturer with traditional truck buyers – a group fiercely loyal to the pickups they purchase and skeptical about anything new until it’s been proven in the field, typically over years. Second, even though J.D. Power and AutoPacific have both awarded the Titan with the highest owner satisfaction rankings amongst full size pickups, early quality issues were flagged around the truck’s interior fitment and rear axle and brake durability, which reinforced the concerns of traditionalists and limited market penetration with this group. But third, and probably most important, Nissan hasn’t offered a deep, broad range of models to appeal to the wide spectrum of potential customers in the segment.

Missing a large variety of cab, bed, wheelbase, and engine options wasn’t an issue initially, because the Titan aimed for the half-ton sweet spot – high profit, V8 powered extended and crew cabs short boxes – plus it reduced manufacturing complexity. Even when actual sales numbers hit just below the pre-launch annual target of 100,000 units, Titan King Cab and Crew Cab brought in enough revenues so Nissan could avoid using heavy incentives to goose sales.

But the full size truck market began to change dramatically last year, after home sales and residential construction slowed and fuel prices started to rise. For Titan, this meant a 16.7% decline in sales from 86,945 units in 2005 to 72,192 units in 2006, as non-core truck buyers began to lose interest in purchasing a fuel hungry four-door 1500 class pickup while true truckers decided to hold onto their current rigs longer or bought different models not offered by Nissan. Even market leader Ford Motor Company couldn’t escape this shift. Ford saw sales of its number one selling F-Series pickups fall by 11.7% last year, from 2005’s record setting levels.

Adding to Titan’s challenges, this year as economic sales pressures have continued to grow so has the competition.

Toyota finally began sales of a credible full size pickup with its all-new 2007 Tundra. The Tundra is another option for consumers looking to purchase a full size import, but like the domestics it comes in a slew of configurations – with three different engines and three cab types. Through May 2007 Titan sales were off 14.9% from the same period last year while Tundra volume more than doubled.

Nissan is keenly aware that if it wants to once again grow Titan sales volumes, it has to increase the truck’s capabilities and cater to the needs of more than just top-end buyers.  As fewer non-traditional buyers enter the segment, the Titan is going to have to increase its appeal to hard-core and commercial truck shoppers.

“We feel it’s very important for the Titan to be perceived not only as a private use vehicle, but also as a work use vehicle,” says Paul Fisher, Titan’s product planning manager.

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