By on January 14, 2010

Back to the basics (courtesy:nissan-of-omaha.com)

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.

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25 Comments on “Truck Thursday: Nissan Developing New Titan, Going “Back To The Basics” With Compact Pickups...”


  • avatar
    Syke

    Yesssss!!!!!!!!!  I hope this guy is for real.  I’ll happily settle for a more modern version of the Ranger.  Two wheel drive and stretch cab, please.  Four cylinder, automatic, and one trim level over the base vinyl and rubber floor mats.

  • avatar
    rpol35

    Seems like that’s the same conclusion that Ford came to with the Ranger. And with Ford being cash poor, reinvigorating the Ranger for a few years is probably the right thing for them to have done.

  • avatar
    Steven02

    Good move for Nissan.  I think the less expensive smaller truck with good fuel economy will be a hit.

  • avatar

    Now that’s what I’m talking about.

  • avatar
    86er

    They might as well get a niche established; being an established name in that marketplace when the Indians and Chinese arrive with their mini-trucks wouldn’t be the worst place to be.

    I suppose I can see their strategy of focusing on improving their dud Titan lineup (if you can call it that) but if I’m to infer that they’re going to dispose of the current midsize Frontier to make way for a back-to-basics compact, they’d be ceding the market to Toyota, which I can’t see them doing. Nissan and Toyota are archrivals in the global market.

  • avatar
    nikita

    If it still has four doors and a four foot bed,  no thanks.

  • avatar
    vandstra

    “It wouldn’t be as small as our old Hardbody pickups. People like the space of the crew cab.”

    Damn. They almost had it right. My dad had a Mazda B2000 Sundowner. I forget the year. It was back when Mazda made their own trucks. I know I must be out of synch with the rest of the “bigger is better” crowd, but that is the truck I want. I don’t want the current Frontier, which I have a hard time distinguising from the Titan in both size and fuel economy. I want a real compact pickup truck. Give me a true six-foot bed, screw the crew cab. Give it a reliable 4-cylinder with an honest 5-speed manual (if I recall the Mazda had a 4-speed manual) and call it a day. That is the truck I want.

    • 0 avatar

      Exactly. I was thrilled until I read the passage you quoted.  I don’t want a crew cab 3 inches shorter, I want a REAL small truck.  Single cab, 4 cylinder, simple.  Witha  bed long enough to actually HAUL something.  Gimme a break.
      John

    • 0 avatar
      Banger

      And let me add a hearty, “Me too!” to this.
       
      One of the things that ruined Nissan trucks for me, other than the increasingly ridiculous size and dismal fuel mileage, was the lack of standard cab, base-trim trucks! I didn’t have my old Hardbody for getting groceries or taking the family out to dinner. That’s what our Sentra is for. The Hardbody was our honest, cheap, haul-off-the-garbage or bring-home-the-new-sofa truck.
       
      When my Hardbody got totaled, I wanted badly to look into Nissan. The first-generation Frontier was okay. It was even available in a standard cab. It felt like the logical successor to the Hardbody. The second-generation started to lose the plot, and was only available in extended cab configuration. By the third generation, Nissan had forgotten the concept completely. I therefore bought the only remaining basic, compact work truck I could find at a decent price with good reliability ratings: The Ranger. The slightly bigger Colorado/Canyon briefly entered the picture, but horror stories from owners kept me far, far away.
       
      Nissan should keep the Fronteir name, but they desperately need to study the first generation of this truck for inspiration. It kept most of the things people loved about the Hardbody– thrifty but strong engines, honest interior and trim options befitting a truck, long-term reliability– but improved on the overall package.
       
      If they can modernize that package a little further without making it a sickly bloated, overpriced pig with a stubby four-foot bed, I might look into a Fronteir again if my Ranger is ever totaled. But for now, the Ranger has a lot of life left. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if I still have it a decade from now. Nissan: It’s your loss.

    • 0 avatar
      Banger

      And let me add a hearty, “Me too!” to the cries for a standard cab, manual transmission, basic work truck.
       
      One of the things that ruined Nissan trucks for me, other than the increasingly ridiculous size and dismal fuel mileage, was the lack of standard cab, base-trim trucks! I didn’t have my old Hardbody for getting groceries or taking the family out to dinner. That’s what our Sentra is for. The Hardbody was our honest, cheap, haul-off-the-garbage or bring-home-the-new-sofa truck.
       
      When my Hardbody got totaled, I wanted badly to look into Nissan. The first-generation Frontier was okay. It was even available in a standard cab. It felt like the logical successor to the Hardbody. The second-generation started to lose the plot, and was only available in extended cab configuration. By the third generation, Nissan had forgotten the concept completely. I therefore bought the only remaining basic, compact work truck I could find at a decent price with good reliability ratings: The Ranger. The slightly bigger Colorado/Canyon briefly entered the picture, but horror stories from owners kept me far, far away.
       
      Nissan should keep the Fronteir name, but they desperately need to study the first generation of this truck for inspiration. It kept most of the things people loved about the Hardbody– thrifty but strong engines, honest interior and trim options befitting a truck, long-term reliability– but improved on the overall package.
       
      If they can modernize that package a little further without making it a sickly bloated, overpriced pig with a stubby four-foot bed, I might look into a Fronteir again if my Ranger is ever totaled. But for now, the Ranger has a lot of life left. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if I still have it a decade from now. Nissan: It’s your loss.

    • 0 avatar

      The question is, are there enough like-minded people to form a market. It costs nothing to posts at forums, but trucks cost money. It’s like whenever you go on the Internet, hordes of people post how manual gearboxes are superior, but they always fail in the market. I’m afraid same is true in trucks. Who wants small vehicles? City hippies, that’s who. And why would they want trucks? They want Fits (if not Kia Soul!) — if they want any vehicles at all. And people who do buy trucks do not want small trucks.

      I thought about getting a Ranger, but then I looked seriously and thought I must be mad. Got RAV4 instead. 24 to 26 mpg in everyday driving, safety, comfort. Its only downside is, no low gear, so it hates steep inclines (I had to experience the ignonimity of being towed by a Tacoma uphill once). Every other feature is much better than Ranger’s. When I need to bring gravel, I take a trailer. Everything else, I drop inside on a tarp. And all for $25,650 in cash. Small truck? Madness, I say.

      Granted I’ve read about farmers in Ohio clamoring for really small trucks, for the cost of ownership and mileage. But they were looking at completely trashy Chinese “trucks”, not what Nissan can legally sell.

  • avatar
    mtymsi

    That is the problem that has long gone unrecognized by the mid size truck manufacturers, the fuel economy (or more aptly put lack thereof) and MSRPs are too similar to full sized pickups. A return to a true compact pickup would sell very well I think.

  • avatar
    Bunter1

    Agree that a true compact PU has it’s place.

    Wouldn’t be surprised if the decsion to keep in the fullsized market is figuring that when (not if) the Ram disappears there will be more room.
    Then a few years later GMC bites the dust…
    After that all of GM and with it the ‘Rado…

    Long term play for Nissan and Toy is to keep in this market.

    Bunter

  • avatar
    Carlson Fan

    Let’s face it Nissan can’t compete anywhere in the truck market so they need to try something different. As long as the economy stays in the dumps it may work.  I drove a compact 4X4 Toyota for 11 years. For the first 8 it was my only vehicle. No way would I have settled on a standard cab over my extended cab.     

  • avatar
    TonyJZX

    what is wrong with the d22 and d40 navara that is available in the rest of the world?

    ok the d22 is ancient as hell and the d40 is mainly a diesel truck but are they too big?

  • avatar
    Becomethemedia

    After high school I worked as a parts driver using a 1988 Dodge (Mitsubishi)D50 with a 2.6 litre/ 5 speed stick and a 8′ bed, putting over 1500000 kms on it,  and I loved that thing.
    It was comfortable , great on gas, and handled well for a truck. It was sold with about 420000 kms on the clock and still ran well, albeit hard starting at times. But keeping in mind it was always driven like it was stolen by multible users and still only required regular maintenance and small repairs.
    I’ve been waiting for years for a truck like that – simple, honest, light,good on gas(or diesel) with a 4 cyl and a manual trans. The Mazda B2200 was also an excellent truck until it morphed into a Ford in 1994.
    There has got to be a market for something like this, the concept of the small truck was lost here in NA a long time ago.
    I say go for it Nissan!
     

  • avatar
    esldude

    Another me too here.  I here lots of clamoring for such a truck. Very simple, unassuming, basic four cylinder truck which is cheap to own and operate.  I think having regular and extended cab is fine.  No need for crew cab though.  I think there is definitely a reliable good sized market for it.  I have a first year Tacoma which is almost too big, but still not and pretty simple.  The current Tacoma is simply too big, fancy and expensive.  Were I interested in it the little extra for a Tundra is where I would go.  However, quite simply I will not get either as they are too expensive.  But an old style compact truck is just what I would go for.  I also feel in the future, this market will only grow as some buyers adjust the difference in their wants versus their needs.
    Now Indian and Chinese trucks might one day convince me.  But right now, if a reliable Japanese truck is available I won’t even consider those from elsewhere.

  • avatar
    tdoyle

    I guess I’m one of the few lucky ones out there as I am quite satisfied with my ’05 F150 with the V6 and 5-speed manual STX.  It’s a regular cab with only a/c and cd.  It has plenty of power, hauls what I need to and is pretty miserly on the highway.  And it has plenty of room for 3 and space behind the seats…

  • avatar
    CarPerson

    GMC sells a base truck that is actually called the “Work Truck.”  $18000 before any real haggling.  That puts the price point for a Nissan at $14000 sticker. Is Nissan really going to sign up for this?

    I hope so. It’d be a real sigment killer if they nailed the content spot on.

  • avatar
    CarPerson

    A few years ago Nissan had a Titan pickup chassis (no cab or bed) on display at the auto show.  I was horrified at how flimsy the fame, crossmembers, brakes, driveline, suspension, cab mounts, and everything else was.  I advised the sales person in charge if they hoped to sell any of these to get rid of the chassis so people would not discover how poorly they were made.
     
    His response?  “I know but this is what they gave us to sell.”
     
    Yes pickups are huge sellers but the competition is fierce and the product requires a major capital re-investment every four years to keep the sales numbers.  It’s a race reserved for those with deep pockets and deep experience in this market.
     
    Focus on the compact truck line where the big guys show only the slightest desire to compete. Start with a basic design to catch a wave even further below radar.

  • avatar
    don1967

    As a Nissan salesman back in the early 1990s, I remember with fondness the old Hardbody trucks… cheap, functional and indestructible.   But I also remember sales being pretty few and far between, with the same 3 or 4 units often sitting on the lot for months at a time.    Today, every truck owner I know has switched to full-size, citing  comfort, payload, and towing ability with very little difference in fuel economy.   None of them, it seems, would ever go back.
     
    If there’s a niche to be had in small trucks, it would have to be very small and very cheap… a stripped-down 4-cylinder workhorse.   Something good for contractors, but also good as a second car for families who frequent Home Depot and would like more utility than a Versa or Accent.

  • avatar
    dmrdano

    A standard cab with a 6 foot box would meet the needs of so many carpenters, plumbers, electricians, handimen (or women), etc. that currently are being force-fed the rediculous Transit Connect (Taurus with a big trunk and ludicrous price).  Add a topper and you have a perfect vehicle.  I would go with a standard cab but with long seat travel.  That way the big drivers can get in and us smaller folk can put some stuff behind the seat.  4WD option is not optional (northern MN); it must be available or forget the whole thing, but make it reasonably inexpensive and you will sell a lot of units.

  • avatar
    Banger

    Pete Zaitcev: I thought about getting a Ranger, but then I looked seriously and thought I must be mad. Got RAV4 instead. 24 to 26 mpg in everyday driving, safety, comfort. Its only downside is, no low gear, so it hates steep inclines (I had to experience the ignonimity of being towed by a Tacoma uphill once). Every other feature is much better than Ranger’s. When I need to bring gravel, I take a trailer. Everything else, I drop inside on a tarp. And all for $25,650 in cash. Small truck? Madness, I say.

    Granted I’ve read about farmers in Ohio clamoring for really small trucks, for the cost of ownership and mileage. But they were looking at completely trashy Chinese “trucks”, not what Nissan can legally sell.”
     
    The Ranger wasn’t right for you. But that doesn’t mean to buy one is akin to madness.  I need no trailer to haul gravel or mulch. As I said, I didn’t buy this truck as a nice vehicle to take the family to dinner in. I bought it to work, hauling things we couldn’t or wouldn’t haul in our Sentra.
     
    In 2007, for a then-one-year old truck with 15,000 miles on the odometer, I paid $10,000 cash for it with a totaled ’94 Nissan Hardbody (~$800) for trade allowance. If it’s necessary for you to spend an extra $15,000 or so to get a vehicle with the right balance of passenger space, nice features and utility for your needs, that’s fine. But I didn’t need nice, I needed tough. Tough is something the Ranger has in spades– not to mention it’s easier to service in every way than even my relatively simple Nissan truck used to be.
     
    My point being this: There is a market out here for these trucks. It’s not just farmers– in fact, I’d be surprised if very many farmers were in this market. Most of those guys need full-size capability, enough so to at least justify a six-cylinder full-size. (And by the way, none of the farmers I know would dare look at a Chinese or Indian truck– that’s just downright blasphemous in farm country!) But those of us who don’t have the luxury of having a commuter vehicle through the week and a pickup for the weekends’ light hauling desire a few things:
     
    1. Decent fuel mileage (my Ranger gets, at its worst with lots of city driving, about 26 mpg. On my frequent highway commute with little town driving, I’ve averaged 30 to 32 real-world mpg.)
     
    2. Cheap to buy, cheap to maintain (I’ve had my truck three years– and it was paid-off in only half that time, thanks to its low price. Meanwhile, I can do oil changes with factory-recommended Motorcraft oil and filter for less than $20 and about 30 minutes of my time.)
     
    3. Reasonable interior comfort combined with ruggedness (My Ranger’s rubber floor is a blessing, after years of forever-dirty carpet floors. And the vinyl seats are tough, with a near-leather quality that has impressed many who have ridden with me. It’s quite comfortable on my 50-mile daily commute, reasonably quiet, and has a good HVAC system that is simple to operate.)
     
    If Nissan can match the Ranger (and, to a lesser extent, the outgoing Colorado/Canyon) in those three areas of concern, they’ll attract quite a few interested buyers. The biggest obstacle I see for them right now is price. But they’ve surprised me with the value proposition of the Versa (decently equipped at around $14,000-$16,000, with more interior space and better fuel mileage than our 2004 Sentra). I think if this truck stickers at less than $15,000 in base form, it’ll draw some attention. Who knows, maybe all the parts stores would cross-shop Nissan for their delivery trucks– a market Ford has had sewn-up for the last several years.
     
    I hope you underestimate American truck buyers’ desire for thrift. Likewise, it is my sincere hope that neither I nor Nissan has underestimated American truck buyers’ egos, long boosted by needlessly enormous, over-capable, artificially low-priced trucks.


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