DETROIT -- By now you’ve seen the new Nissan Titan pickup that debuted today at the North American International Auto Show here.
But even if you haven’t, you have.
That’s because it has Ford F-150 DNA stamped all over it, from the three horizontal indentations in the grille that recall Ford’s three-bar grille, to the shape of the chamfered headlights to the doglegs in the front doors at the front of the windows.
I have no doubt that the Titan will be a technically excellent truck, powerful, capable, durable. It has some very cool consumer features, such as the puddle lamps that turn on automatically when the driver approaches the vehicle, the two-way tailgate assist, LED lights in the cargo bed rails and the full-length running boards.
From fuel economy to hauling power, the engine lineup checks all the boxes. It consists of a Nissan-built V-6 and V-8 engines, and an all-new twin-turbo 5.0-liter Cummins diesel V-8 that can lug more than 12,000 pounds.
And yet I predict that on the roads of Texas and elsewhere, the new Titan will be invisible. Styling-wise, it moves the bar nowhere. Worse, it uses elements of another company’s styling DNA to try to gain instant credibility in a market segment that rewards original, standout designs, such as the Ram 1500, and punishes lackluster styling efforts such as the current Chevrolet Silverado.
The Titan has a heavy load to pull for Nissan. It has to be successful in order for the company to reach its volume and profit targets. But Titan’s me-too styling make that uphill haul even more difficult -- despite the industry’s first optional V-8 diesel engine in a light-duty pickup. (The Ram EcoDiesel is a V-6).
Pickup buyers have not cottoned to either the Titan or Toyota’s Tundra. Neither truck has sold in numbers anywhere near high enough to justify the billions of dollars invested by Nissan and Toyota. American buyers have been doggedly loyal to their General Motors, Ford and Chrysler-built trucks. Maybe that’s because Detroit-made trucks never suffered the same level quality woes as did Big 3 cars.
An original and eye-popping design would have helped the Titan break through.
Here’s what Nissan says about the Titan’s design: “Rather than emulating any of the full-size pickups on the market today, including the current Titan, the designers wanted the new Titan to reflect Nissan’s design language -- but on a much larger scale than done before. The resulting design is more anatomical, rather than architectural. The front looks like a mask and the sides are shaped, not slabs, with the whole presence anchored by an emphasis on the very large and mechanical-looking wheels, which were inspired by big box-end wrenches.”
Styling aside, the Titan, which arrives later this year, will be very interesting to watch for a number of reasons. For the first time, the Titan will be available as a full lineup, with three engines, two frame sizes and three bed lengths. There should be a model for nearly every buyer.
And here’s an interesting twist: Some of the larger Titan models are over 8,500 pounds gross vehicle weight, meaning that, fully loaded with people and cargo, they are in the same class as Ford’s F-250 Super Duty, and the Silverado 2500 and Ram 2500.
The new Titan will, of course, post higher sales numbers than the outgoing model. In 2014 Nissan sold just 12,527 Titans. Ford sold more than four times as many F-150s last month alone.
It’s surprising that Nissan, a company that has produced its share of interesting, original designs, would greenlight such a disappointing Titan.
While it's already taken years for the new update, a redesign, with fresh, original thinking, can’t come fast enough.