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Nissan Aims At Truck Relevance With Titan-Cummins Diesel Deal

Author : Date : 2013-8-25 14:10:14

It didn’t take Nissan long to turn its poaching of Fred Diaz from Ram into a daring gambit on the product side. With his bid to use a diesel engine and a co-branding relationship with Cummins CMI -1.07% to provide new relevance to the tired Titan pick-up truck line, the new U.S. chief of Nissan sales and marketing has wasted no time in going after one of his old employer’s most important franchises.

Although he jumped to Nissan from CEO of the Ram brand only in April, Diaz already struck a deal with Cummins to provide a 5.0-liter, V-8 turbodiesel engine that will be offered as an option on the overhauled Titan that Nissan plans to introduce for the 2015 model year. It’s a different power plant than the 6.7-liter, inline-six turbodiesel that Cummins produces for Ram. But “we will definitely leverage the Cummins brand name,” a Nissan spokesman said.

The heavy-duty part of the pickup market gained new momentum a couple of years ago, before the general truck segment began catching fire this year. And for Ram, being able to offer a Cummins diesel was crucial in helping it compete with juicier heavy-duty offerings by General Motors GM +0.2% and Ford.


Now, in the annals of auto-company personnel swaps that made a big difference in a hurry, the acquisition of Diaz and his knowledge of the Cummins connection isn’t likely to prove as legendary a move as, say, when Lee Iacocca was booted from Ford. The legendary car chieftain took the minivan concept with him to Chrysler, where it remade not only the company but actually the entire U.S. auto market in the Eighties.

And it isn’t clear to what extent Nissan already may have been talking with Cummins or even considering a deal before Nissan lured Diaz.

But one thing is clear: No one in the industry understood better than Diaz what co-branding with Cummins could do for a pickup-truck brand, because he presided over the happy results at Ram.

And it would have been difficult for Nissan to have recruited anyone with more chops on the pickup front than Diaz. He presided over Ram at a key time — when it was transitioning away from being part of the Dodge brand, when Ram took opportunistic advantage of a lull by rivals and introduced a significantly overhauled version of the 1500 last year, and when Ram scored big marketing points with its evocative “Farmer” TV ad during the most recent Super Bowl.

For sure, Titan can use all the help Diaz can give it. The tired old model hasn’t been significantly revamped since it was introduced a decade ago. Titan sales dropped by 21 percent for the year to date through July compared with a year ago, while Nissan’s overall U.S. sales rose by 9 percent.

It’ll take a lot more than a Cummins engine and logo on a Titan for Nissan to make its pickup-truck brand relevant, even in a rising market, because each of the Detroit Three seems to be taking full advantage of the new lease on life being enjoyed by the pickup segment. But if Nissan has a shot, Diaz certainly is the man to take it.