Nissan hopes new Titan can crack U.S. pickup market

Paul A. Eisenstein
Special to The Detroit News

Nissan hopes to be hauling some heavy loads with the launch of its second-generation Titan pickup.

The original truck, introduced in 2004, was the first Japanese model to target the full-size segment long dominated by Detroit. After some initial success, however, demand went into a tailspin from which Titan has yet to recover.

But with the all-new model making its debut Monday at the 2015 North American International Auto Show, the second-largest Japanese maker is betting it can create what it calls a "new class" within the huge pickup segment. Nissan is targeting those, it says, who want "the capability of a heavy-duty hauler with the drivability and affordability of a light-duty pickup."

Those visiting the Nissan stand will get a first glimpse of the new 2016 Titan XD Crew Cab, the heavy lifter in the line. But by the time the full Titan family is rolled out, there will be three cab configurations, two frame sizes and five different grade levels.

There also will be three different engines, including a fuel-sipping V-6 and a beefier V-8. But in an unusual move, Nissan is launching the new Titan with a 5.0-liter Cummins diesel, one of only two "oil-burners" available for light-duty pickup buyers.

While rated at 310-horsepower and a hefty 555 pound-feet of torque, Nissan suggests the diesel Titan will deliver some of the truck market's best mileage, though it isn't ready to release numbers. The current half-ton mileage champ is the Ram 1500 Ecodiesel, which delivers 20 mpg city, 28 highway.

With fuel prices at five-year lows, that might not be quite as appealing as when gas was running $4 a gallon, however, so expect Nissan to spotlight the fact that the diesel Titan also will deliver up to 12,000 pounds of towing capacity, and the ability to haul up to 2,000 pounds of cargo.

"This is a true truck-truck," boasted Product Specialist Rich Miller during a preview of the new Titan.

The pickup also will feature a variety of useful innovations, from its lockable bed storage bins to a rearview monitor with trailer guides. The around-view monitor system will provide a simulated bird's-eye view of the vehicle, while moving object detection can spot other vehicles or even shopping carts when backing out of a parking spot.

Whether all that will help Nissan become more than an asterisk on the pickup sales charts remains to be seen. Even while the maker delivered a record December, it saw sales of Titan slip 32.3 percent, to a mere 869. For the year, the truck was down 20.2 percent, to 12,527, about as many Ford F-Series pickups that are sold in a week.

The genesis of the second-generation Nissan Titan has been convoluted. At one point, the maker wanted to partner with Chrysler and take a version of the popular Ram 1500. That was scuttled after the Detroit maker emerged from bankruptcy and was taken over by Italy's Fiat.

Nissan officials will just be glad to finally get the new Titan into showrooms "later this year."

"We have a huge hole in our line-up and it's in full-size pickups," said Phil O'Connor, who directs truck operations for Nissan. Simply getting Titan sales back to where they were in 2005, he noted, would boost Nissan's current market share by a full half point, to 8.9 percent.