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PUTC: I noticed that the traction and vehicle dynamics features are not available with the manual transmission.
TC: Part of that is a development concern and part is really a complexity issue. Pickups are inherently so much more complex than sedans because you have multiple engine choices, 4x4 and 4x2, crew cab and Kingcab, manual and automatic, and so we’re struggling to rationalize that down to what consumers require. Based on customer research we’ve conducted, we don’t see a lot of demand for VDC at the manual transmission level. Our struggle is to offer dealers a reasonable mix of vehicles. We can’t expect them to offer every single combination that we can build. It’s just not practical.
PUTC: Talk about the new 4.0 engine, which is based on the VQ engine series.
TC: It’s really a third-generation VQ. First was the 3.0-liter, then we expanded the displacement to 3.5-liter for several applications. For truck applications, we’ve expanded to 4.0-liter. The engineers have paid particular attention to durability and to maximizing low end torque and little bit less attention to horsepower.
PUTC: It’s still kind of a high-strung motor. Peak torque comes in 4000 rpm.
TC: But if you drive it, a great percentage of the maximum torque is available in a very usable rev range. Historically, (the VQ series) has been applied to cars like the 350Z where horsepower has been the objective. From an engineer’s prospective, they’ve done what they believe to be the best balance between torque and horsepower on the truck engine.
PUTC: When Titan was introduced, there was a concern with an all-aluminum engine in a fullsize truck. In your consumer research, were there any concerns over durability with the new Frontier?
TC: We haven’t had any concerns over the actual construction of the vehicle. When people have driven the passenger car applications, they’ve been very complimentary. On the truck, when we optimize for torque, I think people like, to some extent, the free revving nature of it.
PUTC: With the old VG motor, it was like a band aid approach whenever you tried to improve it, as with the supercharger, and fuel economy was terrible. You were able to design this VQ40 starting with a solid piece of paper. That had to have been an advantage, correct?
TC: It some regards, you are right that there was a little bit of a band aid approach, although I’m not sure I would use the term, “band aid.” It’s more that the compact pickup competitive set has lacked a lot of innovation for 10 or 15 years. When you start with a fresh sheet of paper, you have to prioritize. Obviously there’s a tradeoff between power and fuel economy and things of that nature. What most of our customer research has told us was that power was an area that was really lacking and fuel economy was not as high of a concern for the consumer. So in developing the VQ40, we prioritized output knowing that people would want increased payload, towing and acceleration. The fact that it’s a more modern engine architecture should inherently benefit fuel economy. But keep in mind the vehicle is bigger.
PUTC: The numbers never want to say this is our limit. Is there a built-in capacity to increase the numbers on the Frontier?
TC: From a technical perspective, certainly manufacturers are always playing the horsepower game. But right now we have class-leading output for any V6. Based on projected and actual performance of our vehicle, I honestly don’t know how much more a customer will value. I don’t see the next generation making as great a stride as this generation.
PUTC: Was there any discussion on going to a composite bed?
TC: Maybe it was discussed informally but I don’t know it was seriously considered. The Titan development preceded Frontier by roughly a year and I know all bed options were studied then. That research in conjunction with some of the Frontier research validated the direction we went with the all-steel box and spray-in liner.
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