Nissan (NASDAQOTH:NSANY) unveiled its all-new 2017 Titan pickup at an event in New York on Thursday. The Titan is a half-ton full-size pickup truck that will compete directly against Detroit icons, including Ford's (NYSE:F) vaunted F-150.
What Nissan said
The new Titan will be available only in Crew Cab form when it launches "in the late summer of 2016," Nissan said. The Titan Crew Cab was the only version shown in New York. Nissan said that single-cab and "King Cab" versions will arrive later in the 2017 model year. The new Titan will join its heavier-duty sibling, the Titan XD, which has been on the market for a few months.
"Titan shares its aggressive style with the Titan XD, but the two vehicles are completely different underneath the skin," said Nissan's North America trucks chief, Fred Diaz. "Titan will compete in the heart of the full-size pickup segment -- the half-ton -- while the Titan XD provides a unique solution for customers by bridging the cost and capability gap between traditional half-ton and full heavy-duty pickups. Between Titan and Titan XD, we will cover about 85% of the full-size truck market."
The new Titan will be available in 4x2 and 4x4 drive configurations, and with three different bed lengths. The only engine option available at launch will be a 5.6 liter V8 with 390 horsepower, although a V6 gasoline engine will be offered later on.
The new Titan will be built at Nissan's plant in Canton, Mississippi.
Does the Titan have a chance against market leader Ford?
To be blunt: Probably not. But the new Titan certainly stands a chance of improving on its predecessor's dismal sales record, perhaps in a big way. Nissan sold just 12,140 Titans in all of 2015. That's about equivalent to a week's sales of Ford's F-Series lineup. Or put another way, Ford sold a little over 64 full-size pickups for every one that Nissan sold in the U.S. last year (Ford sold 780,354 F-Series pickups in 2015).
To be fair, the outgoing Titan is a model that has more than run its course -- it was introduced way back in 2003. While the new truck looks likely to generate a big bump in sales, at least initially, the new Titan's total sales volumes are unlikely to scare the Blue Oval and its Detroit rivals, who have long dominated the full-size pickup segments.
But there are hints that Nissan has surprisingly high expectations for its new truck.
Nissan is making a substantial bet with the new Titan, with (eventually) three different cab configurations, three bed lengths, and two different powertrains. That all represents a sizable investment, one that anticipates a lot more than 12,000 sales a year.
The Titan certainly looks the part up close, with a handsome chrome grille and a brawny presence that should stand up just fine when it's parked next to its Detroit rivals. Nissan hasn't yet announced the new Titan's towing capacity, but that brawny V8 should give the new Nissan some very competitive numbers.
It looks the part inside, too. I spent a few minutes sitting in a preproduction example that appeared to be the same truck that Nissan used in the official photos that you see here. That particular truck was a top-trim model, with wood-grain trim and plush leather. But note the photo below.
This particular truck was loaded with high-tech features, but see how the buttons and knobs are all fairly large? That's critical for a market segment in which buyers expect to be able to operate their vehicles while wearing work gloves. Nissan did its homework on this one.
The upshot: It should boost Nissan's truck sales, but by how much?
No matter how good it is, the new Titan faces a probably insurmountable challenge: American pickup customers strongly favor American-brand pickups.
Nissan isn't the only Japanese automaker that has been trying to get traction in America's truck market: Toyota (NYSE:TM) sells more Tundras than Nissan does Titans, but compared to Detroit it still doesn't sell very many. With the new Titan, Nissan appears to be making a big bet that it can change that -- but history suggests that the odds will be long.
John Rosevear owns shares of Ford. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Ford. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.