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Nissan has watched U.S. sales of its Titan pickup sag in recent years, but some auto analysts believe a deal with Columbus-based Cummins Inc. to put a 5-liter diesel engine into the truck for the first time could attract more buyers — eventually.
“Smaller diesel engines are a really hot market, and Nissan needed to be in it,” said George Peterson, an analyst with AutoPacific research in Tustin, Calif.
“It also provides Cummins an outlet for more capacity. This may only be 10 percent of Titan sales next year; it’s not a huge thing. But it’s something that will help.”
One engine analyst said it’s a smart move for Nissan to link arms with Cummins, which has built a following among pickup lovers with its well-received 6.7-liter engine for the Dodge Ram pickup.
“Cummins sort of has an enthusiastic following because of the Ram,” said Mike Brezonick, editor of Diesel Progress magazine, which tracks the pickup and commercial vehicle markets. “Will the Nissan project win gangbuster sales right away? No, not initially, but it will drive more people to look at the Nissan Titan who would not have done so before.”
At present, Nissan is in the midst of unveiling a redesigned Titan for the 2014 model year, and the partnership with Cummins provides extra appeal. Peterson said the Nissan Titan also is likely to be in a consumer-friendly price range, although Nissan has not revealed a pricing strategy.
“I think this might just be the kind of thing the Titan needs. It sounds like a good combination,” said Jack Nerad, a market analyst with Kelley Blue Book. “Cummins has a good reputation among the work-truck diesel market, and Titan needs a shot in the arm.”
Nissan will promote the Titan “very aggressively. They have the executives on their team to do that very well,” Nerad said Tuesday. “I think there’s potential there to sell 50,000 Titans on an annual basis, with a portion of that being Cummins’ diesel-equipped vehicles.”
Citing competitive reasons, Nissan didn’t announce a specific launch date Tuesday but said engineering prototypes powered by the new Cummins engine are being tested on public highways.
Lately, though, the Titan has seen its market share and sales volumes dwindle.
U.S. full-size pickup sales have increased 23 percent across all brands through July this year, according to Autodata Corp., a research firm. But Titan’s sales have swooned, falling 21 percent in the first seven months of the year compared to the same period in 2012.
In July alone, the Titan sold only 1,168 units in the U.S. — or 42 percent less than a year earlier. By comparison, the Dodge Ram sold more than 31,000 vehicles in July and more than 201,000 in the first seven months this year.
Peterson said it’s wise for Nissan to partner with a well-respected engine maker such as Cummins to try to build up the Titan’s sales.
“Cummins is an outstanding diesel supplier. People who have Dodge Rams with Cummins engines in them love the idea, and they brag about it,” he said. “I see a lot of potential.”
But Peterson also warned that the pickup market is evolving, with a number of manufacturers redesigning their top-selling models and offering more engine options.
“It’s a real competitive market for them,” Peterson said of Nissan and the Titan, in particular.
Still, Brezonick said Cummins’ 5-liter diesel has the potential to win sales well beyond the Nissan Titan, and it easily could be used in commercial vans, delivery trucks and even small cargo haulers.
“Are they going to break the bank? Certainly not at the beginning. But (Cummins) can grow this over time and build this into a very nice business,” he said. “As time goes by, there is going to be a demand for more diesel, and this feeds toward that. This isn’t a grand slam. Let’s call it medium ball. The simple fact is you build things over time.”
How engine stacks up
Nissan said the Titan/Cummins diesel will have a torque rating in the mid-500s (pound-feet) and deliver more than 300 horsepower.
“Truck owners told us there’s a demand for the performance and torque of a diesel in a capable truck that doesn’t require the jump up to a heavy-duty commercial pickup,” Fred Diaz, vice president of North American Nissan sales and marketing, said in a written statement. “There is no question the new Titan will turn heads.”
Diaz was in Irvine, Calif., at a Nissan industry showcase Tuesday at which the Cummins partnership was discussed. Nissan hired Diaz a few months ago. He used to be in charge of the Ram pickup brand when he was at Chrysler, and he worked with Cummins on that product.
Other analysts said they expect the efficiency of diesel engines to win additional fans over time. Nerad of Kelley Blue Book said contractors — and others who buy pickups for their work — value the efficiency and longevity that diesel-powered engines bring compared to gas-powered engines.
The Cummins engine deal amounts to a fresh effort by Nissan to expand in the truck market. In early 2008, Nissan had said Chrysler would let it buy its Ram truck platform for the next version of the Titan in exchange for allowing Chrysler to use a compact car design. However, that agreement fell apart when Chrysler slid toward bankruptcy.
Cummins was developing a diesel engine for Chrysler’s light-duty Ram 1500, but the contract was voided in Chrysler’s 2009 bankruptcy. When Chrysler decided to restart the diesel program for its light-duty truck, it used an engine from parent Fiat SpA instead of reviving the Cummins engine.
Cummins remains the largest supplier of heavy-duty truck engines in North America, accounting for about 40 percent of the market.
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