About a year ago, Nissan’s response to nose-diving truck sales betrayed some serious ambivalence about chasing the profitable-yet-dangerous segment. Its first plan was to rebadge the new Ram, but that deal has fallen apart in the wake of Chrysler’s shotgun wedding to Fiat. At a loss for options, Nissan canceled the Quest, QX56 and Armada and started tooling up its Canton plant to produce commercial vehicles. It looked like Nissan’s days in the truck market were over. Now, USA Today reports that Nissan is developing a new full-sized pickup (and SUV) after all. By itself. Who’d have thunk it?
Why is Nissan getting back into a full-sized truck segment that it couldn’t even milk 20k units out of last year? Other than sheer desire to be a full-line manufacturer, there aren’t a lot of good rationalizations. On the compact pickup front, however, Nissan seems to have a better idea of what it wants and how it will get it.
Pickuptrucks.com spoke to Nissan product planning VP Larry Dominique about Nissan’s compact pickup goals, and got the following heartening quote for their trouble:
What we want to do with the compact truck market is go back to the basics of what it used to be. If you talk to the compact truck buyers, it’s not why they originally bought these things. They wanted a cheap, get-me-done truck and that doesn’t exist. If you go outside this country, we sell our old small trucks in high volumes because people want a cheap truck with a one-ton payload. We think if we can get that equation back in line — and that’s a big if – we think there’s clearly a market opportunity….
It wouldn’t be as small as our old Hardbody pickups. People like the space of the crew cab. But can the vehicle be three inches narrower than today? Can it shrink the second row by an inch and the front row by an inch and still satisfy customers? But I want to get better fuel economy and I want a lower price point. I don’t think we need 265 horsepower. The customer isn’t telling us they need all of that capacity. We need to work to define what we need to deliver to the customer.
With a brace of low-cost cars planned for the US and a utilitarian approach to compact pickups, Nissan is clearly trying to position itself as America’s recession brand. It’s not a strategy without its risks, especially with Chinese and Indian automakers set to invade over the next several years. Whether Nissan’s pre-emptive strike against the newcomers, offering low-cost products with a trusted brand name and less third-world stigma, pays off remains to be seen. But at least they’re planning on addressing one of America’s most neglected segments, the compact pickup, with a properly utilitarian attitude.