There's no question that Nissan's truck designers and engineers face a huge challenge in front of them: Both the Fontier and the Titan desperately need an update and a huge leap forward in technology.
The Frontier recently has seen some solid sales progress in the midsize segment, as the Ford Ranger and Dodge Dakota have left the marketplace. The Frontier was also a strong player in our recent Midsize Shootout, finishing in second place to the Toyota Tacoma. But if Nissan wants to boost market share in this stagnant segment, it will need to up its game with the next-gen truck. Likewise, the Titan is not aging well and is in need of significant competitive assets.
We recently sat down with Rich Miller, of Nissan Truck and SUV Product Planning, to talk about how the automaker, theoretically, goes about mapping out a strategy to update and improve any product, car or truck, in the company's lineup.
"Any redesign is a big deal, but here's how we stay focused," Miller began. "We first break down the project into three key areas, asking ourselves three key questions. First, how can we make our current buyers happier with their choice? What features are they looking for that they'd like or don't even realize they want?" Of course, being able to keep in touch with owners who have lived with your products every day can provide a lot of good input, he said. (At this point in the conversation, we suggested they could get quite a bit of information by reading PickupTrucks.com and our commentary from passionate readers as well).
"Second, we ask ourselves what is the regulatory climate, and could it possibly shift in the next three, five, 10 years," Miller continued. "This is probably the fuzziest of our strategies, but Nissan has a pretty good track record of seeing what's coming down the road and being ready for it." Miller added that issues of safety and fuel economy will always be significant predictors regarding how consumer tastes might change, but other government and economic changes must be considered as well.
"Finally, we look at how we can expand a vehicle's appeal and which other segment (related or unrelated) might be ripe for conquesting," he said. A lot of this question, he told us, revolves around seeing where buyers have been gravitating and where they're likely to move in the future. "We saw an entire segment make radical shifts just because consumer demand changed, and the bull's-eye we were all aiming for made a significant move (away from SUVs and toward crossovers)," said Miller, giving the most obvious example of Nissan's new-for-2013 Pathfinder, which used to be a traditional SUV but will now fall more in line with other crossover requirements.
What does all this mean for an upgraded Titan or Frontier? Unfortunately, our guess is that since the current numbers and trends for the Frontier happen to be going in the right direction, the next Frontier won't see many significant changes or segment-first technologies. With that said, we can only hope the seats and interior choices get a huge redesign, along with some improved driver connectivity. And we wouldn't mind a better, more aggressive PRO-4X package.
For the Titan, we hope a nothing-to-lose attitude gives the designers and engineers more latitude to experiment and take a few interior and exterior upgrades to new heights. Also, overhauling the engine choices, possibly adding a small turbo-diesel to the mix, would be a huge USP (unique selling point) in a tight half-ton market. All those ideas would certainly address each of the three questions that Nissan product planners are using to keep their focus.
We can only hope that their focus will produce some interesting and segment-leading results.