A Designing Woman's Revenge
2004 Nissan Titan

A top executive of General Motors Corp. once told Diane Allen that women should not be allowed to design the exteriors of cars and trucks. That ended Allen's desire to become a GM designer.

Today, Allen is design manager of Nissan Design America Inc., the beauty division of Japanese-owned Nissan North America Inc., which lately has been rolling out high-appeal automotive sculpture, such as the Nissan Murano wagon/SUV and the new Nissan Quest minivan.

Allen's design corps is preparing to introduce something else, something that could hurt GM, Ford Motor Co. and DaimlerChrysler Corp. in one of their most lucrative segments -- the market for full-size pickup trucks.

Allen's entry is the 2004 Nissan Titan pickup, touted by Nissan, with justification, as "the first true full-size pickup built by an import manufacturer."

The Titan, being introduced this fall, is designed to take more than sales from the domestics. After all, Toyota Motor Corp. has done that already with its Tundra pickup by selling 108,863 Tundra models in 2001 and 99,333 last year.

Nissan has similar numerical hopes. It initially wants to sell 100,000 Titans annually in the United States, still a small fraction of the 2.3 million full-size pickup trucks sold each year in this country.

But Nissan's market-impact hopes for the Titan are far greater. It wants to send an unmistakable message that the Titan marks the real beginning of the end of domestic dominance of full-size pickup truck sales.

Thus, the aptly named Titan is as big as -- and bigger than, in some areas -- any full-size pickup truck U.S. car companies have available. It has more headroom and rear legroom than its competitors. And in its King Cab model, the version with two full front doors and two smaller "rear access" doors, the rear doors open nearly 180 degrees, granting easy access to the back passenger cabin. No domestic full-size pickup currently has that feature.

The Titan, available with shift-on-the-run four-wheel drive, has a high stance. Minimum ground clearance in the tested King Cab model is 9.7 inches in the two-wheel-drive model and 11.3 inches in the four-wheel-drive version. Yet, the truck proved exceedingly stable on the twisting, winding back roads and mountain roads of California's wine country.

Power? Heck! Try an all-new, 5.6-liter, 305-horsepower V-8 stuffed inside a bold, rugged truck body that still has some extra touches of common sense, the kind a designing woman might give, such as the driver's-side lockable bedside storage bin to tuck away tools and other cargo.

Of course, the Titan has its work cut out for it. Brand loyalty to full-size GM, Ford and Chrysler pickup trucks remains strong, seemingly unassailable.

But if Nissan's "hit 'em with everything" strategy succeeds, and GM suffers as a result, GM can lay part of the blame at the feet of that now-departed executive, whose name I won't mention, who told Diane Allen that she would never make it in automotive exterior design.

Nuts & Bolts

Complaints: Nissan says it doesn't need the eight-foot-long cargo box offered as an option by domestic car companies. Nissan instead is going with a 5-foot-6-inch and 6-foot-6-inch beds for the Titan. That's a mistake. "Hit 'em with everything" should mean everything, including an available eight-foot bed.

Praise: Nissan is right. The Titan is a genuine, bona fide full-size pickup contender

Head-turning quotient: GM is about to find out the meaning of "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned." Allen's bold, in-your-face Titan design turned heads everywhere.

Ride, acceleration and handling: Excellent marks in all categories. The Titan feels a bit heavier in handling than the 2004 Ford F150. But it easily matches the curre t handling feel of the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra. Beats the Toyota Tundra hands down.

Body-style notes: No regular cab available. That's probably a smart move for Nissan, because the regular-cab pickup market is fading fast.

Engine/transmission: The standard 5.6-liter, 305-horsepower V-8 is linked to a five-speed automatic transmission with overdrive.

Capacities: Both the Titan King Cab and Crew Cab seat six people. Depending on model and equipment chosen, maximum payload is 1,692 pounds. Max towing capacity is 9,500 pounds. Fuel tank holds 28 gallons of gasoline (regular unleaded is recommended).

Mileage: An estimated 15 miles per gallon (King Cab/4WD) in mostly highway and off-road travel.

Technical innovation: Highly reconfigurable, employing five "C-channel" rails for variable tie-down attachments.

Safety: Rollover protection system, side bags for front-seat occupants.

Price: Titan pricing has not been announced at this writing. But expect it to match competitors, which means a range of $22,000 to $35,000 depending on model and equipment chosen.

Purse-strings note: Competition rules! Compare with 2004 Ford F 150, Chevrolet Silverado/GMC Sierra, Dodge Ram 1500, Toyota Tundra.