Why Aren’t Nissan Trucks as Popular Here as They Are Around the World?

“Convoy B, stop ahead.”

Our tour guide’s voice crackled over the radio as we approached a dry riverbed. We’re in a part of the world where rivers like this were created thousands of years ago but have been dry ever since.

My co-driver, a British bloke, brings our Nissan Titan PRO-4X to a stop and we climb out. We’re in Morocco, at the northern end of the world’s largest desert – the Sahara – and we came across something quite interesting.

That dry river? It was very, very wet. We came across a flowing river in a part of the world that sees less than half an inch of rain annually. When the support team came through a few hours earlier, there was no river here.

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Apparently, our presence in Morocco literally blessed the rains down in Africa.

We were in Morocco to experience Nissan’s global LCV (light commercial vehicle) lineup. For those in North America, that means the Nissan Titan was represented. But also present was the Nissan Navara, Patrol, and Asian-market Terra. The Sahara was a central meeting place for journalists all over the world to see what Nissan was all about.

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In North America, specifically the United States, Nissan is trying to gain a foothold in the pickup truck marketplace. The Titan is going after the likes of Chevrolet, Ford, and Ram in an attempt to get a piece of the pickup truck pie.

In the United States, however, Nissan isn’t known as a truck leader like they are in the rest of the world. Sure, they sell trucks here, but the average truck buyer doesn’t think Nissan when they think trucks and the brand is trying to change that perception.

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Globally, however, things are different. In Europe, Nissan’s Navara is considered the luxury truck offering in the metric ton segment (metric ton trucks are what we call midsized trucks in the United States). The Patrol is a leader in off-road luxury, with strong sales in the Middle East where one minute you might be on freshly paved tarmac, and the next you might be up to your axles in sand.

And despite the once in a 20-year rainfall, we were determined to push these vehicles as hard as we could.

Starting out with what we’re most familiar with, the 2018 Nissan Titan seems huge on the roads of North Africa. Even in areas where there is no civilization in miles, the monarchy hasn’t paved the roads any wider than they are in most of the villages. Only in the town where the king was born do the roads get wide enough to really feel comfortable with the width of the Titan.

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While we’re comfortable with Titan’s 5.6L Endurance V8, the foreign journalists are all shocked by the big truck with the big engine. Contingencies from Europe and Asia all seemed to be giggling when behind the wheel of the Titan.

Even my British co-driver couldn’t help but be intoxicated by the V8. “Who doesn’t like a V8?”

Even Nissan’s global team are reminded how big the Titan is by the extra rear seat legroom. At one point in the journey, a member of the senior management team pointed out just how much legroom they had in the back of the crew cab Titan compared to the Navara – which they already consider a big truck.

During a sand dune portion of the drive program, several people got hung up in the sand with the Titan. Unless you’re comfortable with the big, heavy truck off-road in the sand, it’s easy to get yourself stuck. Fortunately, a big V8 makes it easy to get out of most stuck situations.

The Patrol is the next largest vehicle in the group and climbing behind the wheel, it feels very much like the Armada we get in North America. The difference lies mainly in a locking rear axle, which comes in handy during our trip but not really needed for the type of driving most Armada drivers do.

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Our test patrol is straight from the Middle East. The “Objects in Mirror are Closer than they Appear” text on the mirrors is written in Arabic, the license plate is straight from Dubai and the satellite navigation thinks we’re in the Persian Gulf.

Also powered by a massive V8, the Patrol feels like it could sell well in the United States. I find the ride as smooth as any Armada I’ve driven, and the interior meets or exceeds the luxury found in the Platinum Reserve model we get in the United States.

The Terra is the most foreign to all the journalists on our leg of the trip. It’s an Asian-market vehicle built atop the Navara platform.

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It’s powered by a 2.5L diesel engine and power is sent to a four-wheel drive system through a 7-speed automatic. Even though every single vehicle, except the Titan, on this program is available with a manual transmission, all of them are shipped to Africa for our program with automatics.

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A solid rear axle with a five-link coil suspension mixes off-road capability with on-road comfort. In the roughest terrain, the Terra has no issues keeping up with the rest of the group and performs admirably.

Because it’s built for the needs and price point of a particular market – in this case, Asia – there would need to be some improvements before it could go on sale here. While the ride quality itself is fine, it does feel like its built to a price point and materials aren’t as nice as they could be. Noise, Vibration and Harshness (NVH) is also higher than what we’d expect in the U.S. for a Pathfinder.

It’s a fun little SUV, and more capable than many of the SUVs on sale in the United States, but it would need some extra refinement to be sold here successfully.

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That leaves the gem of the bunch – the Nissan Navara. The trucks we drove were N-Guard versions with the Arctic Trucks package. Arctic Trucks is the Icelandic company that modifies trucks to handle the most extreme environments on Earth.

Think of the AT32 package as the equivalent of a Colorado ZR2. Not only does the Navara AT32 have solid axles, but it includes a front axle lock. Beefier off-road tires, underbody protection and a snorkel that’s waterproof makes the truck the most capable of the bunch.

It also has a five-link coil rear suspension that makes the truck ride smoother than most of the metric truck picks we have in the United States. It also has Nissan’s NASA-inspired zero-gravity seats, dual zone climate control and all the luxury features you get in many higher-end pickup trucks in the States.

The 2.3L twin-turbo diesel is a gem in this truck. It makes 187 horsepower and on a dry lake bed, we cruised along at 90 mph easily.

But the truly impressive thing about the Navara is that it’s a Billy goat. Thanks to being lightweight and extremely capable, it’ll go anywhere. While other vehicles were getting stuck in the sands of the Sahara, the Navaras were running circles around it.

I would love to see how well a ZR2 would’ve handled the desert sand because the Navara AT32 is one of the most well-rounded and capable pickup trucks I’ve ever driven – full stop. I’d buy one tomorrow if I could.

As we clear the river and head towards the Errachidia airport to return home, it’s obvious at how seriously Nissan takes their truck offerings globally and how much knowledge they have in building capable off-road vehicles.

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I hope that for the next Frontier, Armada and Pathfinder Nissan leans on their global expertise in truck building in developing these vehicles. Lean on their leadership in harsh environments like the desert and people will flock to showrooms to buy vehicles with extreme capability.

Ford does it with the Raptor. Ram does it with the Power Wagon. Toyota does it with the 4Runner. But in the part of the world where we were, I’d take that Navara AT32 every day of the week.

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