First Drive: 2020 Nissan Titan Makes Value Play in Pickup Market

November 15, 2019 by Jerry Hirsch, @Jerryhirsch

Nissan is still trying to find the formula for full-size pickup truck sales.

With the 2020 Titan pickup, the automaker is launching yet another reboot. It’s not a full redesign, but there are significant changes to the powertrain, interior, technology and styling to create a more compelling package for shoppers.

Here’s Nissan’s problem: The full-size pickup market is enormous. Automakers sold 2.4 million in the U.S. last year. That’s 14 percent of all 2018 light-vehicle sales. Although Nissan builds its truck in Mississippi, consumers gravitate to the U.S. brands – even when many of those trucks are assembled in Mexico.

While Ford sold more than 900,000 F-Series pickups last year, Nissan sold barely 50,000 pickups. It has just 1.4 percent of the U.S. full-size truck market. The automaker will struggle to sell 40,000 pickups this year.

LOOKING FOR THE ANSWER

But Tiago Castro, head of Nissan North America’s truck business, believes the automaker finally has the answer.

2020 Nissan Titan Platinum Reserve

Nissan has tightened its lineup for the 2020 Titan reboot. (Photo: Nissan)

It starts with focusing the lineup. Dump the regular cab to focus on trucks that can transport families. Scuttle the diesel engine offering in the beefier Titan XD version. The diesel option jumped the price without bringing in enough buyers. Condense the trim lines to concentrate on what customers want most, reducing manufacturing complexity. The king cab now has only three levels: S, SV and Pro-4X. The crew cab comes in those plus the higher SL and Platinum Reserve trims. The crew cab has a standard 5.5-foot bed, while the king includes a 6.5-foot bed.

All will have a rear-wheel-drive or four-wheel-drive choice.

SAFETY INCLUDED

Add standard features that shoppers are looking for, such as Nissan Safety Shield 360, a driver’s assistance safety suite. The 2020 Titan is the only truck with automatic emergency braking, rear automatic braking, high beam assist, lane-departure warning, blind-spot warning and rear cross-traffic alert included in its base model. Those are all features the insurance industry is pushing because they reduce the risk of a crash.

Other improvements include a retuned 5.6-liter V8 engine. It will offer up to 400 horsepower and 413 pound-feet of torque. Castro said the power numbers would be best-in-class for a base model. Nissan is mating the engine to a new nine-speed automatic transmission. It replaces a seven-speed transmission and provides smoother and faster acceleration. It should also improve fuel economy, but Nissan has yet to release the EPA rating for the truck.

2020 Nissan Titan Platinum Reserve

Nissan’s target market is Titan owners. The automaker knows it can’t overtake Chevrolet or Ford pickup sales. (Photo: Nissan)

Nissan also has added Apple Carplay, Android Auto and an 8-inch touch screen as standard features. That beats what’s available on the base models of the Toyota Tundra, Ford F-150, Chevrolet Silverado and Ram 1500. There’s an optional 9-inch screen.

TITAN JUNCTURE

“This is an important moment for Nissan. Titan represents opportunity, and we’ve invested over $230 million to make this truck better in every way,” Castro said.

The goal is to make the Titan the half-ton truck with the most standard power, safety and technology in the segment. That’s backed by a 5-year/100,000 mile bumper-to-bumper warranty, also the best in the business.

Nissan hasn’t provided a price yet, but the 2020 Titan’s suggested price is expected to come in at about $35,000 for the king cab and approach $38,000 for the crew cab.

VALUE PLAY

If Nissan hits or beats those numbers, truck buyers should take a look at the Titan. It will become the value play in the segment.

A recent drive of the Nissan near Park City, Utah, demonstrated that this is an able vehicle whether you are driving highways, towing a trailer or hitting off-road trails. The new transmission shifts smoothly. The engine – with 10 more horsepower than the current model – accelerates nicely with a load. The interior is roomy, and the suspension makes the ride comfortable for most drives. It wasn’t so great while sitting in the rear on a washboard climb up a steep dirt track. But no truck is.

The Pro-4X model is targeted for off-roading. The trim features Bilstein shocks, all-terrain tires and a lower radiator skid plate. It also has features such as hill-descent control and an available electronic locking rear differential. Other trims come standard with hill-start assist and brake limited-slip differential. The Titan also has an enhanced off-road gauge that displays the vehicle’s tire angle, relative pitch and roll angles.

2020 Nissan Titan Platinum Reserve

Nissan has added Apple Carplay, Android Auto and an 8-inch touch screen as standard features. (Photo: Nissan)

TOWING AND PAYLOAD

The truck has enough power for most towing tasks. All Titan models can tow at least 9,200 pounds. The standard payload capacity is 1,600 pounds. With available equipment, the Titan has a maximum towing capacity of 9,370 pounds and a maximum payload capacity of 1,680 pounds.

These improvements are designed to keep the customers Nissan already has. It doesn’t plan to fight it out to convert Chevrolet Silverado or Ford F-150 owners.

“The customers we are trying to attract are Titan owners. We want to give them a better truck than ever before,” Castro said.

MARKET OPPORTUNITY

But Nissan also believes the changes to the Titan will make it a compelling option for those new to the full-size truck market.

“Every year, about 30 percent of the full-size pickup market is customers that don’t currently own a full-size pickup truck,” Castro said.

That amounts to about 600,000 retail customers. Just grabbing a small share of those shoppers – say 5 percent to 10 percent – would quickly grow Nissan’s truck business. It also would build the base of return customers to power future sales.

If Nissan finally has the formula correct, there’s plenty of room for growth.

Editor’s note: Nissan provided travel and lodging to facilitate this report.

Jerry Hirsch October 10, 2019
The Ram truck division of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles is poised to topple the Chevrolet Silverado pickup from its perch as the second best-selling vehicle in the U.S.

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