2005: Interview with Nissan's Thayer Chew
01-11-05 18:59 PT
© 2005 PickupTruck.com
is the senior manager of product planning at Nissan North America. PickupTruck.com
editor Mike Magda sat down with Chew to discuss the background of the
2005 Nissan Frontier's development.
Did you see any advantages in coming to market last?
Chew: Sometimes you have the opportunity to see what the competition
has to offer. But honestly, that wasn’t really in our strategic
thinking. It was more a function of building capacity in our Smryna (Tennessee)
plant as well as the development capabilities of the engineering teams
at Nissan. You’ve probably heard that Mr. Ghosn (Nissan CEO Carlos
Ghosn) has identified a need to bolster some of the engineering resources
at Nissan to develop numerous products more rapidly. That is one of our
bottlenecks that we’re working hard to overcome.
Did you make any changes to the Frontier knowing what other manufacturers
had done with their midsize trucks?
Quite honestly, no changes. The planning horizon is so long that we do
a lot of customer research up front to identify their wants, desires and
needs. We feel pretty confident at the end of that process that we have
a good understanding of customer requirements. That said, there is the
development cycle where a certain amount of time passes before your product
is launched to market. We still feel very comfortable with what the customer
research told us as well as our internal studies that the offering is
What about the numbers game, towing capacity and horsepower, for example?
You waited until the last minute to announce those numbers. Was there
any hindsight available in making those decisions?
I think you’re always looking at where your competitors are but
that can’t be your sole focus because then you’re really more
of a follower than a leader. What you do is evaluate realistically—whether
it’s towing or payload or horsepower—and assess what the market
climate is and plan from there. What’s amazed me over time is that
theoretically competitors are doing it all in isolation and yet when their
products come to market, in many cases they’re remarkably similar
in terms of specs.
Do you see any disadvantages in having the Titan and Frontier look so
similar, such a potential Titan customer not wanting the truck because
it looks like a small truck?
I really don’t. I think Nissan is looking—not just in the
truck family but also in the SUV and sedan families—to have a Nissan
corporate identity. We do so through similar styling cues. Obviously we
want to avoid a cookie cutter in small, medium and large. Certainly styling
cues can be reminiscent of other family members and still be strong within
their own competitive set.
Once you get this attitude embedded in the consumer, do you see any opportunity
to start making the vehicles more distinguishable?
You do, but there are similarities and there are differences between the
compact pickup and fullsize pickup target buyers. In terms of the similarities,
I think that’s where you can have a common thread on your truck
lineup and offer the same innovativeness such as the utility bed features.
And so is there really a need to be distinctive from midsize Frontier
to fullsize Titan? I think the benefits reaped from those types of innovative
features are universally appealing, regardless of what segment you’re
When Titan came out, Nissan officials talked about the need to establish
credibility with the fullsize truck buyer. Obviously Frontier already
has equity built into its name. What did you see as the main goal for
this third-generation Frontier?
Perhaps with the current Frontier (second generation introduced in 2001)
we strayed in a little bit different direction than we historically have.
It’s interesting to me that when we conducted consumer research
we still hear positive comments about the Hardbody, which at this point
is getting a little bit old (last produced in 1997). So our desire for
the new Frontier was to return almost to the Hardbody roots. I’m
a little reluctant to say that because it’s not like we’re
recreating a new generation of the Hardbody, but we wanted to return to
the authentic truck that’s capable, and in this case, a midsize
truck with fullsize capability.