Nissan gave the full-sized Titan the length, bed size and towing capacity to compete with its American rivals. By Mark Rechtin Automotive News / July 07, 2003 VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- Toyota Motor Corp. was the first Japanese automaker to launch a full-sized pickup in the U.S. market, but many industry watchers consider its entry, the Tundra, to be a miss. Rather than follow Toyota down that road, Nissan Motor Co.'s engineers and product developers created a full-sized pickup that's full of big-boy attitude, rugged styling and segment-leading features. The truck Nissan showed at its media introduction here last month will go toe-to-toe with the Ford F-150, Chevrolet Silverado/GMC Sierra and Dodge Ram. Wheelbase, length, bed size and towing capacity match or exceed the Big 3 entries. So will its standard engine. "(Toyota) didn't do us any benefit by releasing a not-full-sized truck," says Larry Dominique, Nissan North America Inc. director of product planning. "There was a lot of impression out there that Nissan couldn't bring out a full-sized truck." BEST IN CLASS BOASTS Nissan claimed at the media introduction here that the Titan has the best-in-class torque, headroom, rear-seat legroom, 4x4 ground clearance and 4x4 approach angle. The Titan also offers features not seen in its competitors, such as an optional factory-installed spray-in bedliner, lighted tailgate, a cargo access area in the rear quarter panel and King Cab rear doors that swing open 168 degrees. An available locking rear differential is a segment first from a manufacturer. Even the base pickup will have a list of standard features, including a five-speed automatic transmission with gated shifter, air conditioning, power rack-and-pinion steering, lockable tailgate, fold-flat front seats and four-wheel disc brakes with ABS. If a customer gouges the bedliner, dealers can quickly patch the hole, a key selling point. Pricing has not been set. But unusually, Nissan has placed dummy prices on its Web site to allow consumers to configure a truck in advance of its introduction. The entry price for a two-wheel drive is listed at $24,340, including destination, for the King Cab, while the Crew Cab starts at $24,740. Four-wheel drive adds $3,000 to the dummy sticker price. With a sales goal of 100,000 units in a 2.3 million-unit segment, Nissan is hardly a threat to challenge the Ford F-150 and Chevrolet for the volume title. But Nissan can make a significant dent. An automatic transmission with gated shifter is standard equipment. In having such a relatively low volume, Nissan also has made some concessions to cost saving. There is only one engine offering, although it is a powerful 5.6-liter gasoline V-8. There is only one wheelbase available, meaning those who want more passenger space with the Crew Cab give up a foot of bed length. There is no heavy-duty version. Nor are there traditional price leaders such as a regular cab or V-6 engine. SEGMENT IS INTENSELY BRAND LOYAL Though the Titan has more in common with the Big 3 offerings than the Tundra, it appears Toyota will be the one likely to suffer market share losses. Nissan product planners repeatedly noted how brand loyal the segment is. The toughest Titan sale will be the first one on the job site, they note. Toyota sold 99,333 Tundras in the United States in 2002, down 8.8 percent from 2001. Through June, Tundra sales are off 5.6 percent, to 47,261. Toyota will launch a significantly brawnier Tundra Double Cab this summer. With the Titan, Nissan is avoiding the typical truck buyer: the Midwestern ranch hand or farmer. Instead, Nissan is aiming for the "modern truck guy," whose uses the truck mainly for personal transportation, not work. They predict most buyers will be urban, rather than rural, and likely live on the coasts. The truck will be used for hauling motorcycles or watercraft, and for making runs to the hardware store. That's because Nissan has little other choice. Their market research shows brand loyalty of 70 percent in the full-sized segment, highest in the industry. So the aim will be more white-collar than blue-collar or no-collar. But Toyota has made inroads with a similar marketing strategy. So if Nissan can mimic such tactics, but with a legitimate full-sized entry, then it could be Toyota that suffers more than any Big 3 entrant. Jim Hossack, an analyst with the AutoPacific consultancy in Tustin, Calif., had just come from the 2004 Ford F-150 media introduction to drive the Titan. He said he was impressed. "Nissan has really done their homework," Hossack said. "It's a better idea. These guys have done a fine job."