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Nissan keeping Titan in lineup


The King Cab version of the 2010 Nissan Titan starts at $26,320 for the rear-drive model and at $29,170 for the four-wheel-drive version.

Nissan dealers and Nissan Titan pickup owners alike say they're pleased with the decision by the Japanese automaker to continue producing the truck — and to develop a new generation of it, as well.

The future of the full-size Titan, introduced in 2004, was in doubt after Chrysler Group LLC said last fall that it was canceling a deal to produce the next-generation model for Nissan on the same assembly line with the Dodge Ram, using the same basic design.

But Larry Dominique, vice president for product planning at Nissan North America Inc., said the company has decided to keep the Titan in house rather than trying to partner with another automaker or to discontinue the vehicle altogether.

And that's great news, a number of dealers have responded, noting that full-size pickups are still a large and profitable market segment, one that has rebounded robustly since dropping to almost nothing in mid-2008 when gasoline prices spiked to more than $4 a gallon.

Most dealers polled said they would have been disappointed to see Nissan stop production of its own Titan and to switch to a re-badged Ram.

Nissan and Chrysler agreed in 2008 to begin swapping some vehicles beginning later this year, with Chrysler dealers to get some Nissan Versa small cars bearing the Chrysler name, and Nissan dealers to receive the Dodge Ram with a slightly different exterior design, bearing the Titan name.

But after Chrysler emerged from bankruptcy last summer and Italy's Fiat took control, the new owners of the Detroit-based Chrysler called off the agreement with Nissan.

The Chrysler product-sharing arrangement would have allowed Nissan to field a new generation of the Titan without the expense of designing a completely new truck in house — a process than can cost an automaker upward of $1 billion.

Sales of the Titan never have come close to matching Nissan's expectations so farming it out probably was the best idea, said automotive product analyst George Peterson, president of the California-based AutoPacific.

“They really did have a good solution worked out until Chrysler canceled the deal,” he said. “Once Fiat entered the picture, that fell apart very quickly.”

Nissan sold just 19,042 of the Titan in 2009, down 44 percent from 2008 and just a mere fraction of the total sales of the competing Ford F-150, with 413,625 sold in 2009, and the Chevrolet Silverado, with 316,544.

Chrysler sold just 177,268 of the Ram last year, so adding a Ram-based Titan to its production line would have allowed the Detroit automaker to make better use of its own factories, Peterson said.

But dropping the Titan altogether would not have been wise for Nissan, he said. “It's really tough for a manufacturer to establish a product in a major market and then pull away. There is a lot of image attached to it.”

And as long as rival Toyota continues to offer its full-size Tundra, built in San Antonio, Nissan probably has no choice but to stay in the segment, Peterson said.

The Tundra does outsell the Titan, but doesn't come close to matching the numbers of the Big Three U.S. automakers' full-size pickups. Toyota sold 79,385 Tundras in 2009, down 42.2 percent from 2008.

Nissan assembles the Titan at its second U.S. factory, in Canton, Miss., which was opened in May 2003 specifically to assemble the Titan, the Quest minivan and two full-size sport utility vehicles based on the Titan's architecture, the Nissan Armada and Infiniti QX56.

Because of poor sales of the truck, SUVs and minivan, Nissan later opened an assembly line for its midsize Altima sedan in Canton as well, and later this year will begin producing commercial delivery vans at the plant. Production of the next-generation Quest and QX56 is being moved to Japan.

Even with the addition of the commercial vehicles to the Canton plant, Nissan intends to keep Titan production there rather than move it to the company's first U.S. assembly plant, near Nashville, Tenn. The Tennessee plant is being prepped to build the new Nissan Leaf electric car beginning in 2012, which will take up any excess capacity at that facility.

That plant already assembles the Altima sedan and coupe, along with the Maxima sedan, Frontier compact pickup, Xterra compact SUV and the Pathfinder midsize sport utility, which itself is a derivative of the Titan.

Longtime Titan owner Charles Dodd said he's pleased that Nissan will continue building the truck and won't be discontinuing it or farming it out to Chrysler.

“I've had three of them already, a 2005, 2007 and now a 2009,” said Dodd, a maintenance supervisor for the Army National Guard. “I love the Titan, but I probably wouldn't have bought one of the Dodge ones.”

While Nissan hasn't said when the next generation of the Titan will arrive, the company did acknowledge that the now-canceled plans to have Chrysler build the new model have delayed the remake.

For the new model to be a success, though, Nissan needs to broaden the Titan's options and configurations, AutoPacific's Peterson said, including “offering some different engine choices.”

The truck now comes only with a 5.6-liter V-8 engine and only in a light-duty model with either an extended or crew cab. Both the Tundra and Titan generally are purchased for personal use, rather than work applications, Peterson said.

Now on sale nationwide, the 2010 Titan is available in King Cab and Crew Cab body styles in four different models — XE, SE, PRO-4X and LE. Rear-wheel drive is standard, but four-wheel drive is offered on all models. A flexible-fuel option also is available, which is designed to run on E85 Ethanol.

Prices for 2010 begin at $26,320 for the XE King Cab rear-drive model and $28,870 for the XE Crew Cab two-wheel drive.

All models come with the 317-horsepower, 5.6-liter V-8 engine and five-speed automatic transmission.

Four-wheel-drive models start at $29,170 for the XE King Cab and $31,720 for the XE Crew Cab.

The Crew Cab model is also available in a SE long-wheelbase version (159.5 inches versus the standard 138.9 inches). It begins at $30,970 for the rear-drive model and $33,850 for the four-wheel drive.

For 2010, Nissan has added standard front seat-mounted side air bags and roof-mounted side-curtain air bags, along with electronic stability control and Active Brake Limited Slip on all Titan models.

There are two new exterior colors, blue steel and navy blue.

Read more: Top Down Auto Blog : Nissan keeping Titan in lineup
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