The news of Volkswagen’s diesel emissions-cheating scheme was still coming into focus this week when Jose Munoz, chairman of Nissan North America, took to the podium for an upbeat press luncheon in Detroit to tell reporters about product enhancements to the 2016 Nissan Altima sedan.
One had nothing to do with the other. But Munoz is savvy enough to know that when news is bubbling the press likes to ask executives about their competitors. Munoz began with a witty defuser -- proclaiming with relief that he does not have a single diesel vehicle to talk about.
But guess what?
That will change in a big way in December, when Nissan brings forth its desperately awaited new-generation 2016 Titan pickup, equipped with a Cummins-built turbo-diesel V-8 engine.
Again, one has nothing to do with the other. And yet, in this small town we call the auto industry, sometimes one neighbor sneezes and the next catches cold.
As Munoz talked about the Altima in Detroit, some of his company managers were in Dallas preparing to show off the diesel Titan to the pickup-leaning masses at the State Fair of Texas. Nissan is proud of the new truck, and Nissan dealers can’t wait to get it onto their lots. Its 5.0-liter diesel truck engine has not a single thing to do with Volkswagen’s fiasco, in which VW’s diesels turn out to be dirtier than the company said.
But there is this: Just like Volkswagen, Nissan will be counting on the word “diesel” to excite customers and distinguish the product.
Apart from this VW train wreck, the word “diesel” carries almost magical power in some consumers’ minds. Customers see diesels as powerful, reliable, muscular, the stuff of hog-hauling big rigs. In the past few years, Volkswagen and other companies have managed to widen the image of diesels to evoke European sportiness and acceleration.
Volkswagen’s attempt to cheat at the diesel poker table isn’t going to end the card game. But it will make the other players at that table a little more watchful and attentive to their cards.
Nissan has an important card to play in about 90 days. They will now lay it down carefully.