Nissan’s decision to kill off its Titan full-size pickup in Canada came as a surprise to its retailers, including the brand’s Canadian dealer advisory board chairman, who happens to be doing brisk business in Titans.
The automaker dropped the news during a regularly scheduled Web call with the dealer advisory board this month.
“There was … shock on the call last week. It was just sprung on you,” dealer board Chairman Rick O’Neill told Automotive News last week.
But the Titan was not a “core product” for Nissan in Canada, said market President Steve Milette.
“The Titan represented incremental business for us,” he said. “This decision was about what we need to do to focus and prioritize our resources to move the Nissan brand forward in Canada, versus Titan as a product itself.”
Nissan’s focus in Canada now is on directing investment into a wave of updated and higher-volume vehicles, including the Rogue, Kicks, Qashqai, Sentra and Frontier.
“We are going deep on the core car lines for us in Canada,” Milette said. “We will invest massively in the nameplates that will move this brand forward.”
While the Titan might not have been a core model for Nissan Canada, it was a profit — and investment — center for some dealers. The pickup accounted for about 15 percent of sales at O’Neill’s three Nissan stores in Newfoundland.
“It’s like someone taking your right arm,” the dealer said. “It was a disappointing phone call for me because I had put so much effort and money into the Titan.”
For O’Neill and other truck dealers, the decision wasn’t just about the end of a model but the end of a business venture. Nissan retailers have plowed hundreds of thousands of dollars into expanding their service centers and adding specialized tools to service the big truck.
Orangeville Nissan in suburban Toronto has invested more than $500,000 in infrastructure and other upgrades to sell the truck, including for wider service bay doors and 12,000-pound lifts.
The Titan also represented a chunk of business for Orangeville — the No. 1 Titan retailer in the country — accounting for 13 percent of total sales last year, said General Manager Jamie Patterson.
“We’re truck country up here,” he said. “It’s tough to replace a truck when you don’t have a truck.”
While Patterson said he understood why Nissan dumped the low-volume Titan, he was perplexed by the automaker’s choice to keep the heavily invested retailers out of the loop.
“It was a decision made with no input from the dealer body,” Patterson said.
Nissan’s Canadian dealers might have seen the writing on the wall.
Sales of the Titan last year cratered to 2,807, down nearly half from in 2018. In the first half of 2020, Nissan sold 800 Titans in Canada, accounting for just 0.5 percent of the full-size pickup segment there.
The second-generation truck was launched in Canada with insufficient incentive support, Patterson said.
“We launched this vehicle with a $75,000 truck, trying to break into a market that is owned by a $40,000 [Ford] F-150,” he said. “We needed to compete on price, and we never were able to put on the programs that were necessary. We needed aggressive lease payments.”
For Nissan, the Titan was “greatly unprofitable” in Canada, dealer O’Neill said.
“We just never got the traction that that truck should have gotten,” he said. “We had the best warranty in the business.”
As in the U.S., Nissan has struggled against the Detroit 3 brands that have a combined 96.5 percent share of the full-size pickup market in Canada.
Convincing pickup buyers to even consider the Titan was a slog, O’Neill said. “I got volumes that the factory was very pleased with out of my stores,” he said. “But I never got the volumes out of them that I was pleased with.”
Retail prospects for the pickup look bleak in the U.S., too.
In the first six months of the year, the Titan eked out only a 1.2 percent share of the full-size pickup segment, with sales of 12,196. Its main rival, the Toyota Tundra, secured a 4.7 percent share, selling four times the Titan’s volume.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way.
When it launched in 2003, the Titan was Nissan’s ambitious effort to rise as an alternative to the domestic truck goliaths. But it sputtered from the start, even as Nissan was trying to convince the world it could build a full-size pickup.
Early on, the Titan faced technical problems and manufacturing quality issues.
The problems were exacerbated by insufficient investment in marketing needed to build awareness for the new model, a former Nissan executive said last week. As a result, U.S. sales of the Titan have tumbled since peaking at 86,945 units in 2005.
Without sufficient volume to spread development and production costs over, Nissan struggled to reinvest in the Titan at a pace needed to effectively compete in the cutthroat segment.
“Nissan is competing with brands that are building 700,000 full-size pickups a year,” the former Nissan exec said. “Nissan has struggled to keep up.”
The Titan was expected to have a six- to seven-year life cycle, but that got stretched to 12 years, the executive said. Nissan had planned to launch a heavy-duty variant of the original Titan, but that was nixed in 2005.
“The Titan just languished for a decade,” the source said.
In late 2015, Nissan introduced a powerful Cummins V-8 turbodiesel engine option. At the time, Nissan executives and planners believed it would give the Titan workhorse respectability and put Nissan onto serious pickup users’ consideration lists.
But four years later, Nissan abandoned the diesel engine Titan XD and eliminated other Titan configurations, including its single-cab models. Nissan described the move as an effort to prioritize resources.
Despite the headwinds, Nissan executives say they remain committed to the full-size pickup segment. This year, the Titan received a $230 million freshening that included a more powerful V-8 engine, an updated design and a suite of safety technologies.
The former Nissan executive suggests the automaker should cut its losses.
“I would consider pulling the plug on the Titan,” he said. “It’s too expensive of a segment to compete in unless you can get the momentum, and unfortunately the Titan just never got the momentum.”