NEW YORK — When Nissan's new North American chairman proclaims himself a "truck man from the South," he is bringing a different perspective to the pickup conversation.
"When I say 'southern,' I mean all the way to Argentina," says Jose Luis Valls, the Argentine who was named chairman of Nissan North America in March.
"I'm a truck man. But I have my own ideas. I'm more into the one-ton pickup, where Nissan is quite strong globally."
The words may signal a strategy shift for Nissan. For the past few years, Nissan has pinned part of its U.S. growth hopes on cracking into the full-size pickup segment with a redesigned Titan. That hasn't materialized.
Nissan has invested heavily in the big truck's second generation and its variations, its engines and its factory in Canton, Miss. But the campaign has barely moved the needle in a full-size pickup market dominated by the Detroit 3. For all of its trouble, Nissan Division sold just more than 12,000 Titans in the first four months of this year, down 21 percent from a year ago. By contrast, Nissan's closest Detroit competitor, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, sold more than 169,000 Ram pickups in the same period, up 18 percent.
Valls has a different idea.
He believes Nissan must play to its natural global strength — the midsize pickup, referred to elsewhere in the world as a "one-ton pickup." Nissan sells its smaller truck globally, and in many cases does well in markets where the Detroit 3 are small players.
That truck — marketed as the Frontier in the United States but under different names elsewhere — represents a segment in which Nissan has a pre-existing chance of capturing more U.S. sales while the Titan continues scratching for a piece of the market.
"I see a lot of opportunities for the new Frontier that we're work-ing on," Valls told Automotive News. "From there, we can leverage much more truck strength and presence, and use it to support Titan's further growth."