Fullsize Pickup Success Remains Elusive for Japanese Brands

While they do well in the small pickup segment, Nissan and Toyota’s position in fullsize pickups isn’t much better than it was 15 years ago.

Christie Schweinsberg, Senior Editor

August 20, 2019

5 Min Read
Titan XD's diesel engine discontinued with end of '19MY.

The recent announcement by Nissan that it was discontinuing the 3-year-old Cummins diesel engine in its Titan lineup is yet another indication of Japanese automakers’ struggle to make headway in the U.S. large pickup segment.

Since the debut of the Titan in late 2003, the best market share Nissan has realized in the sector was 3.5% in 2005, Wards Intelligence data shows.

Share for its fullsize pickup dropped each subsequent year until 2016 when, spurred by the introduction of the second-generation Titan in late 2015, Nissan’s slice of the segment went from 0.6% in 2015 to 1.0% in 2016.

Titan share more than doubled to 2.3% in 2017 but went down in 2018 (2.2%) and has fallen further in the first seven months of 2019 (1.5%) as Titan sales dropped 25.7% in the period vs. year-ago. Titan sales of 20,268 through July were vastly lower than those of the Detroit Three's fullsize pickups, whose models have racked up hundreds of thousands of deliveries this year.

Nissan had hoped to make a bigger splash the second time around with the Titan, in part by offering the Cummins-made 310-hp 5.0L DOHC diesel V-8 with 2-stage turbocharging in 2016. At the time, a Nissan official told Wards the brand wanted to “fill the diesel white space” that then existed in the U.S. large pickup group with its introduction (See story: https://www.wardsauto.com/technology/cummins-diesel-carves-niche-nissan-titan).

In 2016, diesel engines mainly were reserved for heavy-duty pickups, which Nissan saw as having more towing capability than many light-duty buyers needed or wanted.

It placed the Cummins 5.0L in its Titan XD variant, a so-called 5/8 pickup as it slots between ½-ton (light-duty) and ¾-ton (marketed as heavy-duty) models such as the Ram 2500 and Ford F-250 Super Duty.

Reviewers noted towing and fuel economy for the Titan XD with the 5.0L diesel was unimpressive compared to the competition.

While the XD diesel could tow 12,000 lbs. (5,443 kg), so too could the Ford F-150 fitted with its 3.5L twin-turbo gasoline V-6.

And while the mill wasn’t rated by the EPA due to the XD’s heavy-duty classification, real-world mpg for ’17, ’18 and ’19 model-year Titan XDs with the diesel averages in the 14- or 15-mpg (16.8-15.7 L/100 km) range, according to owners posting to Fuelly.com.

For contrast, similar or slightly better fuel economy is reported by owners of the bigger Ram 2500 heavy-duty pickup with its Cummins 400-hp 6.7L turbodiesel V-8.

Meanwhile, Ram’s 3.0L “EcoDiesel” V-6 in ’14-’18 light-duty 1500 pickups averages in the 22-mpg (10.7 L/100 km) range, according to Fuelly users, on target with the truck’s EPA estimate.

Wards Intelligence data shows the 5.0L diesel’s installation rate had fallen. The mill was in 18.8% of all ’18MY Titans, down from 25.6% in ’17MY vehicles. (Installation data for ’19MY isn’t yet available.)

Those are higher installation rates than Ram or Ford’s 3.0L diesels in their respective ’18MY 1500 and F-150 variants, but those two truck brands sell at much higher volume and offer a wider array of engines than does Nissan.

There are some known mechanical issues with the Titan XD diesel that could have harmed its take-rate among buyers. Owners posting to titanxdforum.com report fuel-injector failures with their vehicles, as well as problems with its exhaust-gas-recirculation system, two issues also experienced by Car & Driver magazine with its long-term ’16 Titan XD diesel.

As a reason for discontinuing the 5.0L, Nissan reportedly says it wants to put its R&D and marketing muscle behind higher-volume, light-duty, gas-engine Titans. The Titan and Titan XD are being refreshed for ’20.

Toyota Does Slightly Better

Nissan rival Toyota, lacking a diesel engine in its Tundra, nevertheless has been slightly more successful in the U.S. fullsize-truck sector in the past 15 years.

However, it also sharply lags the Detroit Three’s big pickups, which accounted for a whopping 94.0% of all large pickups sold in the U.S. through July of this year. The F-Series led with 36.5% share, followed by FCA’s Ram (25.5%) and General Motors’ Chevrolet Silverado (22.8%). The latter two essentially have swapped places since last year due to a sharp rise in Ram sales and a decline in Silverado deliveries.

Predictably, Tundra share reached its pinnacle of 9.1% in 2007 given the debut of the current-gen model that year. Tundra share fell below 6.0% in 2011, went back above it in 2012 and 2013, but has been in the 5% range or just below it since, or roughly where it was in 2004 and 2005 before the current-gen launched.

Small Pickup Success

If Americans are unwilling to buy a fullsize pickup by a Japanese brand, they are more than willing to purchase one of their small-pickup models. The lack of success by Nissan and Toyota in large pickups is in sharp contrast to their triumph in small pickups. Both have fielded entrants in the segment for decades, in many years more successfully than the Detroit-based OEMs.

In 1970, Wards Intelligence data shows Nissan predecessor Datsun’s small truck, simply called the Pickup, led the segment with a commanding 43.7% share, topping the Chevy El Camino (22.1%) and Ford Ranchero (21.0%), as well as Toyota’s Pickup (9.9%).

While Nissan’s position has subsided in the sector, now occupied by the Frontier model, the truck tops the GMC Canyon, new Ford Ranger and Honda Ridgeline in market share. It’s an impressive feat, considering the Frontier hasn’t been fully redesigned since 2004.

The Toyota Tacoma, last reworked in 2015, has been the market-share leader among small pickups for nearly 20 years.

Nearly half (47%) of all small pickups sold in the U.S. last year were Tacomas, although its dominance has eroded this year with the return of Ford’s Ranger.

Ford told Wards in December that, in the Ranger’s 8-year absence from the U.S. market, many of its owners bought a Tacoma (See story: https://www.wardsauto.com/industry/ford-ranger-sets-sights-toyota-tacoma). It hoped to win back some of those people, and that appears to be happening.

The Ranger held a 10.8% share through July, with Tacoma’s share falling 7% from last year to 40.4% in the January-July timeframe.

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