Nissan pins its hopes on new Titan truck

CANTON, Miss. – Nissan’s hulking new Titan won’t be marketed with a three-word slogan such as “Built Ford Tough” or “Like a Rock.”

And viewers of the first television ads may have a hard time figuring out what the Titan looks like because of all the splattered and flying mud.

But make no mistake, when the first Titans rumble off a Mississippi assembly line on Tuesday, it will take aim at the bumpers of Ford, GM and Dodge’s big trucks.

Downplaying the appearance of the Titan in the initial TV blitz is a deliberate gamble by Nissan. The 15-second spots feature full-screen white letters on a black background proclaiming hefty towing, horsepower and torque statistics. Later, 30-second spots will give viewers a better look at the vehicle.

The Japanese company is acknowledging that, in the high-stakes game with Detroit for the loyalties of big-truck lovers, it has to gain credibility.

“You’ve got to show you’ve got the goods,” said Rob Schwartz, executive creative director of the agency behind the Titan’s ad campaign.

It will be no easy job. U.S. truck owners are not fickle.

“I don’t need to try something new,” said George Oberhausen, owner of a 1997 Ford F-150 and store manager at Obie’s Chevron in Clinton, Miss. His previous vehicles were a Ford Ranger and a Ford Bronco.

“I’m a Ford guy,” he said.

Oberhausen’s nephew, Tommy Oberhausen, who manages the shop at Obie’s Chevron, owns a 2000 Chevy Silverado four-by-four truck. But he is impressed by the Titan’s hefty specs.

“I’d go look at one,” he said. “It’s got a tow-haul mode, so when it gears down it’s like a standard and gives you longer shift intervals.”

The Titan’s debut is the final stage in Nissan’s attempt to be perceived as a full-line U.S automaker. The Japanese company’s new Canton plant, where the Titans are being made, also produces a revived Quest minivan and its first full-size SUV.

The truck is the vehicle that will most directly draw the ire of the Big Three, whose dominance of the 2.3 million, full-size truck market is their bread and butter. While Japanese manufacturers have made major gains in the market for passenger cars, trucks remain a U.S. staple.

“The Titan is taking on an aura of more importance because it’s the first time we’ve taken on the dominance of the Big Three in a huge market,” said Emil Hassan, senior vice president of manufacturing, purchasing, quality and logistics for Nissan North America Inc.

Industry analysts say the Titan’s massive proportions – 9,500 pounds of towing capacity and a 5.6-liter V-8 – and sleek design should ensure that Nissan meets its first-year sales target of 100,000 trucks.

Copyright ©2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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