The last several months have been fun to watch:
* Near the end of last year, we were introduced to an all-new Ram 1500, and it's doing quite well with the media and with sales overall.
* The Ford Atlas stole a lot of the thunder at this year's North American International Auto Show.
* And just last week, Toyota made a pretty big splash at the 2013 Chicago Auto Show with its major design refresh of the 2014 Tundra.
Now we have news that a new 2015 Nissan Titan, the last of the six half-ton competitors, is on the horizon.
We're guessing it was not an accident that Nissan decided to release information about its future product plans for the full-size pickup the day before the world debut of Toyota's Tundra, which happened Feb. 7. With the segment so violently competitive lately, getting attention is a challenge.
Automotive News is reporting the next Titan should arrive sometime in the first or second quarter of 2014 as a 2015 model. As the oldest player in the segment, we hope Nissan has been studying some of the other, more successful players in the segment. For Nissan, as well as the average truck buyer, there is a lot at stake.
How We Got Here
Many will recall that the Titan was originally scheduled to be completely redesigned for the 2009 model year, sharing a platform design with an overhauled and all-new (with coil springs no less) Ram 1500, but those plans were derailed as Chrysler's relationship with Mercedes-Benz disintegrated. All of that turmoil meant Nissan was on its own to design a new full-size truck, putting the manufacturer significantly behind schedule.
In a Feb. 6 press release (download the full Nissan release here), Nissan America's Vice President of Product and Advance Planning and Strategy, Pierre Loing, said of the next Titan, "Our truck engineers and designers have very clear marching orders. Deliver a winner. Nothing is off the table. Many of our team have lived and studied the truck market and lifestyle most of their careers. They know the stakes."
From the sounds of that, this new truck could be promising. Whether or not Nissan knew what kind of changes (significant or otherwise) Toyota was making to its truck for the Chicago show, the timing of this announcement seemed perfect. As the smallest market-share player in the full-size pickup segment, Nissan has to do something dramatic if it wants to be taken seriously by truck buyers, which means something much more than an exterior reskinning or updated interior.
Clearly, automakers should not be cautious or conservative when planning long-term full-size truck strategy. Truck buyers are capable of comparing competing packages and configurations. And the truck makers are not just offering slightly improved models; they're coming to the truck fight with new engines, transmissions, clever cargo solutions, plenty of model choices, fuel economy technology and more.
Both Ram and Ford have done a stellar job lately (we'll cautiously reserve judgment on the 2014 GM trucks). They serve as a good template for Nissan to follow (for product update cadence, too).
We'd love to see Nissan do something significant with its cab configurations (give us the regular cab), wheelbases (a crew cab 6.5-foot box would be nice), powertrains (here's its chance with Cummins) and especially a new interior design (nothing needs to be said). If Nissan wants to play in the big leagues and dig itself out of the sales cellar, it needs to tackle all of these areas at once and create an aggressive product-cycle rhythm with mid-model refreshes. This is where Nissan can do the most damage to the Toyota Tundra, which just entered the party with a new dress but didn't lose any weight or give us any more "vavoom."
The full-size pickup truck segment demands serious attention because buyers are smart and discerning. We like what we're hearing from Nissan. But we've also been around long enough to know that words and promises never communicate as clearly and loudly as action and results. So we'll patiently wait to see what Nissan has to offer before deciding. All we know now is that Nissan has had some good success aggressively redesigning vehicles that are getting a lot of attention - the new Nissan Pathfinder comes to mind - and if that's any indication how aggressively re-engineered the new Titan can be, we're hopeful.