Nissan North America will export the U.S.-built Titan pickup to China, where it hopes to gain a foothold in the market's robust commercial and construction segments while also satisfying a new yearning there for American-style pickup driving.
The decision indicates how determined Nissan is to expand the market position of the full-sized Titan – long viewed as an also-ran in the critical U.S. market, where it is dwarfed by its Detroit 3 competitors and Toyota.
U.S. sales of the Titan have jumped 180 percent to 39,663 through the end of October -- but that is still equal to less than three week’s worth of sales for the top-selling Ford F-series truck.
But Nissan North America Chairman Jose Munoz admitted that approving exports to China is also a move to satisfy Nissan's eager Chinese dealers.
"The Chinese look very much to the United States and they see pickups driving families here," Munoz said during a visit to Automotive News on Friday. "They asked, Why don't we have those pickups here?"
Nissan did not say what the initial export volumes would be. But Munoz noted that there is not too much available Titan factory capacity in Canton, Miss., at the moment.
Despite the truck's low sales in comparison with the offerings of Ford, General Motors, Fiat Chrysler and Toyota, Munoz said U.S. factory orders are rising. He said Nissan's dealer network has long been geared to cars rather than pickups, and introducing the Titan gradually around the country has required the factory to provide many retailers with training in truck sales and service.
"They didn't understand this business very much," Munoz said. "They are passenger car dealers. They've hired people who are pickup experts. They've been trained on repair and selling and they've asked us for more training. As they get more confidence, they are ordering more.
“Our aspirations are to get about 5 percent in this segment,” Munoz said. The Titan had only a 1.7 percent share of the U.S. large pickup truck market through October.
Meanwhile, he said Nissan North America is getting more requests to ship the Titan to other world markets and the company will satisfy requests.