Pickup Trucks Are More Important Than EverNissan chief executive Carlos Ghosn took center stage to introduce the 2016 Titan last week at the Detroit Auto Show. He spoke of the truck's new features, impressive Cummins V8 diesel engine and the extensive amount of time and money required to build a modern, competitive pickup truck.
"We have done all of this because we see opportunity – an opportunity in the unmet needs of today's American truck customers," Ghosn said.
He was speaking about the Titan, but his thoughts echo the industry's mindset: When it comes to trucks, find an opportunity and attack.
Even with CAFE regulations looming and fickle consumer preferences, investing in trucks is a no-brainer for automakers. Some consumers will always need a truck for their job or lifestyle. And some people will always want one, whether they need it or not.
With that in mind, here are four reasons why the pickup-truck sector is more important than ever and poised for growth in 2015.
The Nissan Titan Is BackOkay, it never left, but the Titan hadn't been redesigned since its launch in 2003, and Nissan sold more NV200s than Titans in 2014. It's an understatement to say the truck was languishing. That all changes with the 2016 model.
The Titan will come in two variants, a traditional fullsize competitor and the Titan XD. The XD will lead the market launch, and it arrives late this year. It's pitched as a "whitespace" offering, Nissan sales and marketing vice president Fred Diaz said. The idea is to offer something in the general size and price range of a fullsize truck, but also have some of the capability of a heavy-duty truck. The XD uses a fully boxed ladder frame, the chassis design from Nissan's commercial division, and the wheelbase is about 20 inches longer than other Titan models.
The XD, which Nissan is calling the flagship of the line, will be the only model with the 5.0-liter Cummins turbodiesel V8. It produces 310 horsepower and 555 pound-feet of torque, while being able to tow 12,000 pounds. V6 and V8 gasoline models will also be offered on the Titan XD and the standard, non-XD model. When production ramps up, the Titan will be sold with several cabs, beds and trims. New features include trailer sway control, an integrated trailer brake controller, more storage options in the cabin and even laminated front and rear side glass to reduce outside noise. All of this has given Nissan fresh confidence in an area where it admittedly has been lacking.
"We can compete," Diaz told Autoblog. "It's been 12 years since we've updated this truck. It's a huge segment. Are we going to go dominate Ford, Chevy and Ram and just surpass them in sales? We are very reasonable about what our expectations are."
"But can we compete a helluva a lot better than we are right now? You darn betcha we can. Are we going to do well with this truck? In my opinion, my modest opinion, I think we will."
The Midsize Pickup Market Is Going To ExplodeNew products will fuel the resurgence of this overlooked segment. The Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon will be on sale for the full year, and the 2016 Toyota Tacoma launches this fall.
The timing has been perfect. Gas prices are low – for the moment – and consumers have shown a willingness to consider midsize trucks as an alternative to crossovers or fullsize trucks.
"It fits the needs for a lot of people," said Bob Carter, Toyota's senior vice president of automotive operations.
While midsize trucks have been overlooked in recent years, they never disappeared. Tacoma sales slipped 2.8 percent to 155,041 units in 2014, but it still outsold the fullsize Tundra by 36,548 units. Meanwhile, Nissan Frontier sales leapt 18.3 percent to 74,323, nearly six times the number of Titans sold last year.
More Options, More ChoicesNaturally, new products mean consumers will have more options when they consider their next truck purchase. But they will also have more features. The Colorado and Canyon will get 2.8-liter Duramax diesel four-cylinder engine variants this year. Rated at 181 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque, the diesel models offer a different dynamic for GM's midsizers.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, Ram will offer a Rebel variant this spring, which is marketed at truck buyers who clearly want to stand out. The Rebel's suspension is lifted an inch, rolls on 33-inch tires and the front has a blacked-out grille punctuated by piercing LED lights. It's designed for sporting enthusiasts, like dirt bikers, whose adventures take them off-road. It's not a Ford F-150 Raptor-fighter, and the Rebel will run with a choice of the Ram's usual 3.6-liter V6 or Hemi 5.7-liter V8 engines. The diesel V6 won't be offered. Ram, however, is enhancing the EcoDiesel line with an HFE version that nudges fuel economy up one mile per gallon and allows the Ram to get up to 29 mpg on the highway.
Meanwhile, Toyota already has two TRD variants, a TRD Sport and a TRD off-roader, planned for the 2016 Tacoma. They'll be offered this fall. Similarly, Chevy is considering another sporty off-road variant of the Colorado, and previewed a possible direction with the ZR2 concept at the Los Angeles Auto Show.
The Ford F-150 Hits Full StrideLast year was a time of transition for the Ford F-150, and the new generation of the truck launched in November. It switched to an aluminum body, but Ford had to close factories to convert them to use the new material. That constrained dealers' inventory, and sales dropped 1.3 percent in 2014, though the F-150 remained the best-selling vehicle in America for the 33rd straight year, tallying 753,851 units.
This year, there are no changeovers in the factories. Ford has a full year to market and sell the F-150, which it's done better than any other truck maker since the Reagan era. In addition to aluminum, the new truck offers a retooled lineup of engines that includes the addition of a 2.7-liter EcoBoost making 325 hp and 375 lb-ft, offering up to 26 mpg on the highway, plus new safety, technology and design features. All of this seems to be working, as the F-150 spent an average of five days on dealer lots in December. It also kicked off 2015 by capturing North American Truck/Utility of the Year honors. Supported by ramped-up factories and a marketing blitz, the F-150 is poised for a strong showing in 2015. And don't forget, in 2016 there's a new Raptor on tap.