Those who follow the auto industry closely will remember the tremors sent across the truck world when Fred Diaz left Ram a little more than seven months ago. As Ram president and CEO, the Texas native was instrumental in guiding the newly formed Chrysler truck-only brand (no longer referred to as Dodge) in 2009, as well as working with dealers and fleet buyers when the revolutionary 2009 Ram 1500 debuted with coil springs and a vastly upgraded interior. Other big news made under his watch included the creation of the Ram Commercial brand and the inclusion of the Ram ProMaster.
Diaz is now the divisional vice president of North American sales and marketing for Nissan, in charge of both cars and trucks in the U.S.A. We had the chance to sit down with Diaz for a few minutes and talk about his move to Nissan, the company's current pickup truck lineup and what products he likes in the Nissan portfolio.
On the next-generation Titan:
"When I first came over, practically the first thing I wanted to do was get to the design studio [near La Jolla, Calif.]. As I lifted my head to see the truck in the studio's atrium, in the sunlight, in full size, that's when I thought, 'OK, I get it now.' I think I shocked a few people there when I started to crawl around the truck, probably a lot longer than they thought I would, and had some ideas for them right away. Then I was a little shocked the next I saw a clay model that had many of the suggestions I threw out there."
On Nissan's relationship with diesel manufacturer Cummins:
"The Cummins deal was well in place before I came over, but I knew it was the right thing to do. The name Cummins means a lot to truck guys and to see that name on the side of a truck. We're going to do some special things with the new half-ton, and the new Cummins [engine] will be a big part of that."
About how well Nissan is listening:
"From Day One, everyone I dealt with made it clear to me: In this truck market they were going to rely heavily on me for input and ideas. From the outset they relied on me to teach them about what this pickup market is all about and what has to happen if we want to succeed. Basically I told them if you want to seriously play in the truck world, you better put on your big-boy pants and jump in."
Whether the Cummins is more appropriate for a heavy-duty model:
"We're not going to play in the heavy-duty segment, but that doesn't mean we can't do some very interesting things with the half-ton. When I came over they were right in the middle of some serious decisions, and I believe the ones we've made will get us back in the fight."
About the Frontier:
"We have not thrown much marketing or advertising at the Frontier and it is doing pretty well, so with a little more attention and support I think we can be happy with what that truck is. We know it could use some interior changes, but we won't be able to do that for a while."
We know nothing gets done quickly when designing or re-engineering a full-size or midsize pickup, so we'd guess we won't see anything close to production until the 2016 model year for the Titan (which means nothing serious for 14 to 18 months). It will probably a year after that for the Frontier. Of course, we'd expect Nissan to put the Frontier on the fast track if the new Colorado becomes a sales hit. More to come.