Nissan Titan failure holds lessons for Toyota

nissan titan failure holds lessons for toyota

The failure of the Nissan Titan could have been avoided. And considering Nissan’s long experience in the North American market, the template for the Titan’s success was plain to see.

The Titan needed to have some compelling reason to pull loyal buyers out of their Ford F-150s, Chevrolet Silverados, Rams and GMC Sierras. It didn’t.

Titan never boasted best in class in any of the major metrics that matter to truck buyers. It couldn’t tow a bigger, heavier trailer. It couldn’t haul more cargo in its bed. And it didn’t beat any competitor in fuel economy. It didn’t boast any radical new technology, such as an aluminum body or a hybrid powertrain.

The Titan was an also-ran that never really ran with the big dogs in the full-size segment.

Nissan’s first — and biggest mistake — was not investing enough money in the Titan’s frame. In a body-on-frame truck, the strength of the frame determines capability. A massively stiff frame enables a truck to tow and haul more. It enables the suspension system to do a better job of smoothing out the ride. It adds to the overall feeling of solidity and quality. Nissan certainly has the engineering capability and the technology to design the best frame in the business. In entering the toughest segment in the business, the frame should have been given top priority.

Looking at reviews of the Titan from two years ago, I came across this:

“Most of the time, the suspension and the truck’s body feel like they’re not on the same page. Impact harshness reverberates up from the road, through the structure, and into the cabin, but it is accompanied by a strange, soft, and absorbent sensation that runs contrary to a driver’s expectations,” J.D. Power said in August 2020. “In any case, newer truck designs feel stiffer than does the Titan. Even the ancient Toyota Tundra, which is a fairly rough-riding truck, feels more solid and of a single piece than does the rather wiggly Titan.”

The Titan is an inoffensively styled truck outfitted with a comfortable, well-equipped interior, a long list of safety features and a very capable V-8 engine. A vehicle with those attributes in any other segment almost always does well. But the full-size pickup market is different.

And Nissan’s experience should serve as a warning to Toyota, whose full-size Tundra sells in minuscule numbers compared with Detroit pickups.

Toyota needs to pick a key performance metric where the Tundra can claim best-in-class bragging rights — and not by a small margin. What we know from the popularity of Detroit pickups is that buyers want the ability to take their recreational equipment (boats, trailers, campers) with them. So, if I am the chief engineer of the Tundra, the next model is going to have more towing and hauling capability than any competitor.

It will cost billions to build such a truck. But it’s more expensive to construct a factory, design and engineer the truck, distribute and market it and then have to kill it because it couldn’t compete.


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