FARMINGTON HILLS, MI – Nissan North America Inc. has given its Titan fullsize pickup truck a makeover for the ’08 model year, with hopes the vehicle will not be swallowed whole by the all-new ’07 Toyota Tundra.

“We don’t want to be the piece on Toyota Motor Corp.’s pie chart next year showing where all their sales came from,” Larry Dominique, vice president-product planning, tells reporters here at Nissan’s suburban-Detroit technical center.

But the auto maker already is looking ahead to the next-generation Titan that will offer a diesel-engine option if all goes according to plan.

Nissan has been working with a supplier on development of a diesel mill for the Titan, with hopes to bring it to market before the end of the decade.

The auto maker in December announced its intention to retail a vehicle with a diesel engine in North America by April 2010. Dominique says that vehicle likely will be the Titan.

“A diesel retains about 80% of its value after three years,” Dominique says of the economic sense of a diesel. “The vehicle may lose residual value, down to a normal 50%-60%, but the diesel premium (consumers) pay still retains about 80%.”

But first the U.S. government needs to work on bringing down the cost of low-sulfur diesel fuel to make it more enticing to consumers used to the lower price of regular unleaded gasoline, Dominique says, adding Nissan commissioned a study by Automotive Lease Guide to gauge current U.S. consumer attitudes towards diesels.

“We think there’s high-pressure common-rail opportunities in every vehicle,” he says. “The question is: ‘What’s the right diesel? What’s the right application?’”

Even a 1.5L turbodiesel for the Nissan Versa subcompact is a possibility, he says, noting some Versa customers have discretionary income to pay a $2,000 premium for a diesel engine.

“If we can get the price equation better for diesel customers, we think a lot of Americans will embrace it,” Dominique says.

In the absence of a diesel option to boost sales, Nissan has added a new long-wheelbase model to the Titan lineup for ’08, available on both the King Cab and Crew Cab models.

Titan’s standard wheelbase is 139.8 ins. (355 cm), while the new LWB is an estimated 157.8 ins. (401 cm).

The length of a LWB Crew Cab now is an estimated 242.2 ins. (615 cm), Nissan says, up from 224.2 ins. (569 cm) with a standard wheelbase. The LWB Crew Cab also has the longest bed in the segment at 7 ft. (2 m).

Other tweaks for ’08 include a deeper, more 3-dimensional grille, new wood interior trim and improved noise, vibration and harshness levels.

Nissan also increased the size of the fuel tank on LWB Titans to 37 gallons (140 L) based on research showing fullsize pickup truck owners don’t like to refuel more than once a week.

The standard wheelbase Titan Crew Cab gets a 500-lb. (227-kg) payload increase, to 2,063 lbs. (936 kg), for ’08.

The Titan will be on display at the Chicago Auto Show next week.

Dominique says, despite Titan sales slipping 17% to 72,192 units in the U.S. last year, the truck is gaining ground in the competitive fullsize pickup segment, with transaction prices up year-over-year and profitability good. The Titan also has the youngest buyers in the segment, he says.

Nissan executives have in the past contended the new Tundra will encourage buyers to compare the Titan as an entry from another Japanese auto maker. Mostly this still is true, but Dominique says the Titan currently is cross-shopped against Ford Motor Co.’s F-150.

Also new for the Titan in ’08 is a PRO-4X trim, which has Rancho shock absorbers, a lower final drive ratio and electronic locking rear differential.

Nissan also has refreshed its Armada fullsize SUV, which rides on the Titan’s F Alpha platform, by giving it a new fascia and 20-in. wheel package.

The Pathfinder midsize SUV receives Nissan’s Endurance 5.6L V-8 engine from the Titan and Armada for ’08, making 300-plus hp in the Pathfinder.

Dominique says research shows a growth opportunity in the midsize SUV segment, with market share for V-8 engines increasing in recent years.

The Pathfinder gets a revised interior and new tailgate, as the previous one was too minivan-like, Dominique says.

All three models go on sale in May in the U.S.

Dominique says the three light trucks will have ’08 Environment Protection Agency fuel economy ratings, which now are being calculated, even though the government allows ’07 model year ratings to be shown on the sticker through June.

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com