IRVINE, CA – Hitting 100,000 annual sales proved elusive for the first-generation Nissan Titan large pickup truck, despite coming close to the mark in its first year in the U.S.

Deliveries of the Titan last year, which launched in 2003 as an '04 model, reached just 21,576 units, WardsAuto data shows, well off the pace of the segment-leading Ford F-Series light-duty truck, which typically is the best-selling vehicle in the U.S.

The second-generation Titan, which goes on sale in 2015, needs to maintain at least 100,000 units of volume annually, a top Nissan official tells WardsAuto.

"Obviously, our sales now are much more modest than that," Nissan Executive Vice President Andy Palmer says at the auto maker's global Nissan360 media event here. "We made a number of mistakes, retrospectively. But I think being up in that kind of (volume) on a sustainable basis is kind of a minimum level for making the business plan work."

Palmer doesn't see the Nissan nameplate as a stumbling block to growing Titan sales, despite strong domestic competition from the F-Series, Chevrolet Silverado, GMC Sierra and Chrysler’s Ram.

The fact Nissan is a Japan-based auto maker eventually will become "irrelevant to a portion of society," he says. "It's certainly true that you've got the highest degree of loyalty” in the U.S. fullsize pickup segment.

"(But) what we're saying is if we go with the most iconic manufacturer of diesel engines (Cummins), and we tie that up with a (truck) that is engineered, manufactured and designed in this country, (and) be disruptive with a few other parts of the vehicle which you haven't seen yet," then Nissan can win share from the domestics.

Palmer acknowledges the Detroit Three have done a good job of building customer loyalty with fullsize truck buyers, largely through the relationships their dealers have nurtured. Nissan is examining the footprint of its U.S. dealers and will consider adding new stores if necessary, particularly in rural areas where pickups enjoy their greatest popularity.

The auto maker believes the Cummins-developed diesel engine announced last week for the next-gen Titan will go a long way toward building sales and loyalty for the light-duty truck. The size of the engine, a 5.0L turbodiesel V-8, shocked many in the industry who were expecting a more modestly sized unit.

"You guys still haul, right?" Palmer says, as to why Nissan felt it needed such a large engine.

The auto maker hasn't yet announced specs for the powertrain, except to say it expects the mill to kick out more than 300 hp. The Nissan-Cummins engine is the only turbodiesel V-8 expected to be offered in a light-duty pickup application in the U.S.

Rival Ram, which also sources heavy-duty diesel engines from Cummins, will launch a Fiat-derived 3.0L V-6 turbodiesel this fall, in its 1500 truck, that will produce 240 hp and 420 lb.-ft. (569 Nm).

General Motors has a light-duty diesel on the shelf for possible application in the Silverado and Sierra. The 4.5L V-8 is said to make 310 hp and 520 lb.-ft. (705 Nm) of torque.

Nissan surveyed owners of fullsize pickup trucks, asking how many would be willing to consider buying a light-duty truck with a Cummins diesel. Some 17%, or roughly 300,000 people, said yes. But Palmer says Nissan doesn't foresee the Titan diesel take rate that high.

"Our business case is nowhere near needing 300,000 diesel engines," he says. Rather, Palmer sees the Titan diesel take rate at 10% to 15% of total Titan sales, although he’s hopeful for more.

The 5.0L V-8 will be the only diesel for the next Titan, but gasoline engines also are planned. The current model offers a 5.6L V-8. Palmer is coy as to whether the auto maker will sell a turbocharged gasoline V-6, similar to Ford's EcoBoost, which other Nissan executives have hinted is in the works.

"Fuel economy will be a part of the vehicle, so to speak," Palmer says.

Having enough capacity to satisfy 100,000-unit sales annually should not be an issue, he claims, despite the fact Nissan has filled the Titan's Canton, MS, plant with other products as well.

When Titan deliveries began to slide late in the last decade, Nissan shifted various models to Canton to fill capacity. Many light trucks built at Nissan's Smyrna, TN, factory, including the Frontier compact pickup and Xterra SUV, now are assembled in Canton. Nissan also added its large NV van to the plant.

WardsAutoproduction data shows 171,336 units were produced at Canton through July, up 30.7% from year-ago. Just 7,551 of the total were Titans. The Frontier made up the bulk of builds on Canton's truck line, with 39,126.

Nissan also makes the Altima midsize car on a separate line at Canton, and in the fourth quarter will add the Sentra compact sedan to the plant. The Murano cross/utility vehicle will be Mississippi-bound in 2014.

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com