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2004 Nissan Titan

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DETROIT – Several years ago, a Japanese auto executive described North Americans' love affair with full-size pickup trucks as a distinct "culture." Since that speech, none of the import manufacturers has managed to crack that culture and the full-size truck market it supports.

Till now. Perhaps.

The Nissan Titan's unveiling here for the media drew a standing-room-only crowd of journalists and industry figures.

The speculators wondered whether the offshore-based carmaker got it right this time. The initial reaction of the assembled scribes suggested the ball was headed for the fence. Now it's up to the public to make it a homer.

This truck is large, beefy and sports V8 muscle, but as truck buyers will tell you, that alone is not enough.

It has to be practical as well as tough, comfortable without being wimpy and it has to have the "look." The look (which is almost undefinable) is what the design team had to come up with. Diane Allan, chief designer of the Titan, was charged with all these concerns – but the one that made her the most nervous was the "look".

"Of course we looked at current designs," said Allan.

"But the bulk of our ideas and inspiration came from spending months on the road, with truck owners, at truck rallies and events – anywhere we could find people who embodied truck culture." For the design team, it was the synthesis of all these opinions, grins and gripes that led to not only the key design cues in the Titan but also to several of the innovative features, such as the 180-degree access doors.

A very trick two-stage hinge allows the rear doors to swing out, away and completely flat against the box of the truck – an access first.

How about a lockable rear compartment in the aft quarter panel? Allan said she heard time and again that an exterior locker (which could be hosed out) would be really handy. Well, there it is.

The Nissan team also wondered why anyone would build a truck without a factory sprayed-in box liner.

In light of the popularity of aftermarket bed liner products, an OEM installed, water-tight, easy-to-clean solution might be a selling feature.

And it will be.

Practicality is also demonstrated in the choice of two C-channel rails (called Utili-track) in the bed floor and one each on the bed side rails and bed header panel.

This standard channel system will accept a line of equipment that Nissan is developing, for example, cargo racks, sliding trays, modular storage units, bike and kayak racks.

The power in the Titan is matched to its looks. An all-new Endurance 5.6 L DOHC V8 will make over 300 hp and crank out 375-plus lb-ft of torque.

Apart from hauling you and yours, that also translates into over 4000 kilograms of towed weight capacity, pulled with a standard five-speed automatic transmission.

The 2004 Titan, built at a new plant in Canton, Miss., bows later this year.

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