You're not likely to see a decal in the back of an F-150 showing a cartoon Calvin doing something not-nice to a Nissan logo anytime soon, but the vehicle manufacturer is rolling out with what is a bona fide "full-size" pickup that should get lots of attention in Dearborn, Auburn Hills, Detroit--and those parts of the country where trucks rule.
Everyone knows that the light truck market is where it is at right now. And for the foreseeable future. So vehicle manufacturers that are intent on making their presence well established in the U.S. market are concentrating more efforts on pickup trucks. Certainly, Nissan has--for the past few years, certainly since Carlos Ghosn has taken the helm--been rolling out a variety of new products under the house and Infiniti brands that are statements of the company's seriousness. And when it started building a 2.5-million [ft.sup.2] assembly plant in Canton, Mississippi, to build minivans and trucks (job 1 was in May 2003), and then added a 1-million [ft.sup.2] phase II before phase I was completed (with phase II accommodating the Altima in spring '04), the company was indicating the level of its commitment to building light trucks. When the 2003 North American International Auto Show was held in Detroit and the Nissan full-size Titan pickup truck rolled out, the gasps--especially from people who work in Dearborn--were if not actually audible, then most certainly tangible. Nissan is coming to trucks, and it is coming with a product that is designed, engineered, and built without compromise, without apology. In a scene dominated by the Ford F-150--and realize that there is the new generation F-150 for '04--the Chevy Silverado, and, to a lesser extent, the Dodge Ram, the whole issue of a "Japanese" brand with what is ostensibly an "American" product is one that the people at Nissan didn't take lightly. Larry Dominique, Titan's Chief Product Specialist, admits, "Consumers find it hard to believe that Nissan is coming out with real full-size trucks." Not only do the Nissan people associated with the truck openly acknowledge that they are trying to edge into a market that has long been dominated by the Big Three, but they also note that because the various "full-size" trucks that Toyota has produced during the past several years are not perceived to be "full size," their challenge with the Titan is all the more daunting.
A METAMORPHIC INTERLUDE
There are two images that come to mind associated with the Titan. One is Minneapolis/St. Paul. The other is Tim Allen.
If you've ever visited the Twin Cities, you might have noticed that there is something of an almost over-compensation there as regards cultural and recreational activities vis-a-vis other municipalities--even cities with far greater populations. From the Walker Art Center to the Minnesota zoo, there is simply a lot there. More than what one might expect. Presumably, it has something to do with the notion that it starts snowing there round about Halloween and stops sometime after Easter (when Easter is late). But for whatever reason, there is this overcompensation. Which is characteristic of the Titan.
The Tim Allen part relates to the sort of High Power/High Torque/ High Impact approach that his Tim "The Toolman" Taylor exhibits on "Home Improvement." The Titan is the kind of truck that that character might have come up with. "Powerrrrrrrr!!!!!!"
MEANWHILE, HALF A CENTURY LATER ... Fred Suckow, senior manager, Model Line Marketing at Nissan, admits, "The domestics have a 50-year head start on us." Which goes a long way to explaining why the Titan is the truck that it is.
While there is no definitive spec that makes a full-size truck a "lull-size" truck, let's get the dimensions out of the way to indicate that the word Titan is not an exaggeration. Recognizing that the regular cab market is declining (and, as Dominique notes, there is "low or no profit" in that segment, and if there is one thing that Nissan is all about right now, it's about profitable products), the Titan is available in either a crew cab or king cab configuration. The former provides more interior volume than the latter (127 [ft.sup.3] vs. 114 [ft.sup.3]), while the latter provides a bigger bed length than the former (6-ft, 7 in. vs. 5-ft, 7 in.; both have a depth of 20 in.). Either way you look at it, the beds are sufficiently capacious to qualify for the "full-size" distinction. In terms of exterior dimensions, both have a wheelbase of 139.8 in., an overall length of 224.2 in., and an overall width of 78.8 in. without taking a tape measure out, know that these numbers are as good as or better than those of the key competitors.
Another characteristic that helps make a full-size truck a lull-size truck is the engine. So, not wanting to stint, Nissan engineers created an all-new V8 engine, which is being produced in the Nissan Decherd, TN, plant. The all-aluminum 5.6 liter engine features cast-iron cylinder liners, graphite-coated pistons, a microfinished forged-steel crankshaft, chain-driven dual overhead cams, and a structural aluminum oil pan. It is rated at 305 hp @ 4,900 rpm and 379 lb.-ft, torque @ 3,600 rpm. It provides 9,500-lb. maximum towing capacity. According to Yuzo Sakita, chief vehicle engineer, the engine was developed with the greatest amount of computer simulation ever used by Nissan powertrain engineers. They performed tasks including flow analysis, finite element analysis, and sensitivity analysis. Sakita says that although Renault (Nissan's "alliance partner") uses CATIA software for its vehicle development programs, Nissan used EDS Unigraphics CAD/CAE lot the Titan engine. One interesting aspect of the VK56DE engine is that although the design program was sophisticated, the goal was to create a simple engine. Apparently, "truck guys" don't like things like variable valve timing.
If anything, trucks must be sturdy. Durable. A body-on-frame with a solid, serious frame. As Hideo Aimoto, Frame and Platform Design Manager, Nissan Technical Center Truck Platform Planning, explains, while bending stiffness is important, torisonal stillness is particularly key vis-a-vis such aspects as NVH, ride, comfort and handling. So, looking at frame rails, there is a choice between C-section and boxed section. And making a comparison between two sections (for comparative purposes only) that are 180-ram high and 60-mm wide, the torsional stiffness of a boxed section is 300 times that of the baseline C-section. To be sure, there is greater weight to the boxed section--but only 6% more. It isn't hard to conclude that they went with the boxed for the Titan.
Nowadays, when people talk about frame rails, hydroforming invariably comes up, at least for au courant products. Yet as new as the Titan is, the boxed sections of the rails are formed and welded, not hydroformed. It's not like they don't have experience with hydroforming, as both the Nissan Altima and the Infiniti G35 both employ hydroformed elements. According to Larry Dominique, there were a few reasons why they opted not to go with hydroforming for the Titan, including the fact that the corner radii are larger than can be achieved via stamping, and it is more difficult to make attachments to the hydroformed components.
One interesting aspect of the Titan frame is that the bottom of the frame rail is the lowest point of any component. That is, there is essentially a flat bottom; no cross-member nor, say, exhaust component protrudes below the rail Consequently, the actual ground clearance is greater than on trucks that have something fixed below. When it is a case off-roading (yes there are skid plates available for the Titan), this clearance can make all the difference.
AUV (ACTUAL UTILITY VEHICLE)
One thing that Nissan discovered that truck guys do like is utility in their trucks. And they determined that they wanted to gain a competitive advantage over other companies, an advantage that couldn't be readily duplicated. And so what they did was work with PPG in developing a spray-in bedliner. It's a two-component elastomar. "Because Titan is being produced at an all-new manufacturing facility, we designed the spray-in bedliner at an added investment of nearly $20-million," according to Larry Dominique.
The spray in bedliner is considered to be more advantageous than the aftermarket drop-in bedliners, under which moisture can be trapped, or aftermarket spray-in liners, that tend to be thicker. Clearly, no vehicle manufacturer is likely to suddenly come up with $20-million to compete with that in short order.