Nissan Titan gets strategy shift

Marketing

NASHVILLE — The bright red Nissan badge that will appear on the front grille of the 2020 Titan XD PRO-4X pickup next year is more than a fashion statement. It’s a signal that Nissan’s strategy in the full-size pickup market is shifting.

Big pickups remain the gotta-have vehicle for millions of earnest American contractors, farmers, business owners, landscapers and utility and road-work crews. But for large numbers of other people, they are simply a lifestyle choice.

Nissan will now turn up its pitch to that group — customers who don’t absolutely need a big pickup, but just want one.

“We think we can appeal to people who want a pickup that offers advanced technology, safety and comfort, as well as capability in power and towing,” Tiago Castro, head of Nissan’s North American light commercial vehicle business unit, told Automotive News at an introduction of the 2020 Titan XD here last week. “Thirty percent of the people who buy a Titan don’t currently own a pickup.”

The effort will rely on more eye candy, with some trim packages that add a dual-panel panoramic moonroof, 485-watt audio system by the iconic Fender electric-guitar brand, 9-inch high-definition touch screen displays, glowing red USB ports, internal Wi-Fi, and a 400-hp V-8 engine mated to a new nine-speed automatic transmission.

Nissan has spent most of this decade trying to carve out a modest corner of the booming Detroit-dominated market for full-size pickups, without much luck.

In the first nine months of this year, Nissan dealers sold 25,412 Titans, 33 percent fewer than a year before.

That is a small and declining position in a segment that grew 2.9 percent to 1.8 million trucks during the same period. The vast majority of those lucrative sales went to Ford, Chevrolet, Ram and GMC, with just a sliver of the market going to Toyota.

Now Nissan is pivoting by marketing the Titan and Titan XD as comfortable, powerful rides that come loaded with tech features. The company has simplified its offerings, focusing on what Castro calls a “ready to go, out of the box” packaging approach that limits the blizzard of options big-pickup shoppers face.

The idea? To make buying a full-size pickup easier for people who just want a cool truck.

The race to offer endless combinations of options has kept Nissan at a competitive disadvantage for years. The kings of the segment — notably the Ford F-150 — make it possible for contractors and ranchers to order their pickups in millions of variations. Nissan has increased its catalog of ordering options over the years but has never been able to cover the vast spectrum of ordering choices that the Detroit 3 believe are important to serious commercial truck shoppers.

Nissan is now reeling the number back in. For 2020, it has done away with two Titan XD body styles — the regular cab and King Cab — and killed the turbocharged V-8 diesel engine option that, five years ago, it claimed was vital to attract commercial customers.

Nissan still very much wants a crack at those millions of consumers who need a rugged pickup to haul big payloads and climb through rough, muddy work sites, Castro emphasizes. But it will now increase its attention to truck shoppers who might merely need to haul a boat on a Saturday morning — or maybe not even that.

“It took quite a bit of conversation with our dealers to arrive at this decision,” Castro said. “We’re taking the step of simplifying the buying process — not just for the customer, but also for our dealers. You really don’t want to have to go through a catalog of 20 million options to make a customer happy.”

That has been another issue that has held back the Titan. Consumers have traditionally known the Nissan brand for its sedans, such as the Maxima, Sentra and Altima. Its crossovers have done well in recent years, particularly the Rogue, which at one point was the top-selling nonpickup nameplate in the U.S.

But selling large pickups is not the same as retailing cars. And many Nissan franchisees do not have experience marketing trucks, communicating to commercial customers or talking the precise product lingo on load capacity or axle performance.

Refocusing the Titan’s pitch to noncommercial demographics — affluent urban hipsters and suburban families, for example — should help the retailers with the product.

With its 2020 model-year redesign, the Titan XD — the larger and more rugged version created specifically to woo commercial customers — will come in only one body style with five grade levels: S, SV, PRO-4X, SL and Platinum Reserve.

The PRO-4X will bear the red logo on its grille. But adding that spot of styling flair was no simple decision.

Adopting a red logo was itself a strategic move. It required a debate with Nissan’s global design leadership, who in addition to drawing new vehicles in the studio also are tasked with maintaining strict consistency around the world on issues such as the appearance of logos.

But the U.S. market just wanted a spot of color to catch people’s attention, like a little orange stripe on a black Nike running shoe, Castro said.

“We wanted it to stand out of the crowd,” he said.

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