Photo by Norman Mayersohn / ENR
Nissan wants to fill a gap between half-ton and three-quarter-ton pickups with its 2016 Titan XD.
Photo by Norman Mayersohn / ENR
The new 5-liter Cummins V8 pounds out 310 horsepower and 555 lb-ft of torque.

Catering to hardworking customers who demand dawn-to-dusk hauling from their pickups, Nissan's latest full-size model is something of a 'tweener, offering a towing capacity of at least 12,000 lb—exceeding typical gasoline entries but designed not to be as brutish (or perhaps as expensive) as competitors' heavy-duty pickups.

Equipped with a 5-liter Cummins V8 that pounds out 310 horsepower and 555 lb-ft of torque, the company's 2016 Titan XD, unveiled just ahead of this year's North American International Auto Show in Detroit, represents a conscious effort at Nissan to serve an open niche between the half-ton and ¾-ton entries and "fill in the white space," as Rich Miller, head of the Titan program, explained it.

Currently, no other light-duty pickup in the U.S. offers a V8 diesel. The rollout also serves as the debut of a first pickup application for the Cummins V8, an engine closely related to the Cummins ISV5.0 engines used in commercial trucks with gross vehicle weight ratings (GVWRs) of up to 30,000 lb.

The diesel engine, which Columbus, Ind.-based Cummins says is compliant with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency tailpipe regulations required for on-highway diesel vehicles in 2017, bristles with up-to-the-minute technology: Two turbochargers, one small and one larger, are mounted within the V of the compacted-graphite-iron engine block, and they operate sequentially to provide boost at both low and high engine speeds.

A patented rotary valve system balances air flow between the turbos, and the emissions system uses both selective catalytic reduction and cooled exhaust-gas recirculation technologies. The diesel particulate filter (DPF) benefits from Cummins' NanoNet media, and there is no fuel injected into the DPF for burn-off, notes Steve Sanders, a Cummins spokesman. The engine is paired with an Aisin six-speed automatic transmission.

Although Nissan has not yet released details of its next-generation gasoline Titan pickup, it emphasized that the XD will ride on its own fully boxed frame. Styled in California, engineered in Michigan and assembled in Mississippi, it also will be available in three cab styles and multiple bed lengths, with maximum cargo ratings of more than 2,000 lb.

The XD model is expected to be efficient, too. Nissan said it will get 20% better fuel economy than some gasoline V8 competitors. However, this could be a closely watched figure for fleet operators.

Nissan officials said they had no regrets introducing a diesel because many truck buyers make their choices based on needs—such as towing capacity, durability and long-term operating costs—rather than short-term savings at the pump.

With an aggressively styled body that echoes elements of the Ford F-150, Nissan's product strategy also harbors suspiciously loose usage of the light-duty classification. Currently, the only light-duty diesel pickup is the popular Ram 1500 EcoDiesel, whose V6 from Italy's VM Motori produces 240 hp and 420 lb-ft of torque. It has a 9,200-lb tow rating and an EPA rating of 20 miles per gallon in city driving and 28 mpg on highway.

But there will be no direct comparison for the Titan XD because it will not get a federal mileage rating. All XD trucks will have GVWRs greater than 8,500 lb, pushing them out of the light-duty category and escaping the need for compliance. Still, Nissan says it is putting the XD through the full EPA mileage-test procedure so it can provide customers with a basis of comparison. Pricing is to be announced closer to this fall's model launch.

Asked about promoting the 2016 Titan XD as a light-duty-ish model, a company spokesman side-stepped the issue with a patient explanation of the company's strategy, ending with this nod-and-a-wink acknowledgment to a reporter: "If you get my drift."