A top Nissan North America Inc. official says the auto maker may pursue a next-generation Titan fullsize pickup truck on its own should a deal with Chrysler LLC fall through.

Chrysler and Nissan have a memorandum of understanding that the next Titan will be based on the redesigned-for-'09 Dodge Ram. The proposal also calls for Chrysler to assemble the truck at its plant in Saltillo, Mexico.

But the near-death status of the Auburn Hills, MI-based auto maker has forced Nissan to view the Titan project in a different light, says Larry Dominique, NNA vice president-product planning, The Americas.

“There are opportunities internally we're looking at,” Dominique tells Ward's. “There are things we could study with?the existing Titan platform.”

The “optimum” scenario calls for a Nissan-Chrysler cooperation, he adds. But until Nissan is satisfied both Chrysler and the proposed pickup program are “viable,” a Ram-based Titan is on hold.

Chrysler declined comment as it neared a May 1 deadline to restructure its operations in accordance with demands made by the U.S. Treasury Dept. and Fiat Auto Group. Hanging in the balance is a $6 billion government-financed loan and an alliance with Fiat — both of which are deemed necessary to ensure Chrysler's survival.

In anticipation of the Chrysler-Nissan pickup project, Nissan announced a year ago it would use the manufacturing capacity at the Titan's current home plant, in Canton, MS, to build light commercial vehicles.

If Nissan were to develop a next-generation Titan on its own, Dominque believes the auto maker could find another Nissan plant with the capacity to handle the fullsize pickup.

“Bill Krueger (NNA senior vice president-manufacturing) and the manufacturing team are pretty inventive guys,” Dominique says. “If we needed to find a place to build a truck, I'm pretty sure they could.”

But an informed source tells Ward's Chrysler remains high on a proposed Nissan partnership that would produce the Hornet, a Nissan-engineered small car for Chrysler showrooms.

If Chrysler links up with Fiat, renowned for its small cars, it calls into question the need for help from Nissan, analysts have told Ward's. “I can't imagine (Chrysler would) have two competing B-segment vehicles,” auto analyst Erich Merkle said in February.

Nissan North America spokesman Fred Standish says the auto maker has “no idea” what impact a Fiat tie-up will have on the Nissan-backed Hornet program. “We don't know what that deal may or may not look like,” he tells Ward's.

Meanwhile, Dominique confirms Nissan will soon begin building, as planned, a Chrysler variant of its Versa/Tiida subcompact. Badged as the Dodge Trazo, it is being sold in the Mercosur region, a South American trade bloc whose members include Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay.

Chrysler-Fiat Partnership Has Priority Over Chrysler-Nissan Deal http://subscribers.WardsAuto.com/ar/chrysler_nissan_fiat_090408/index.html