Like Henry Ford's first Model T, Nissan North America Inc.'s new full-size truck will offer the industry's first factory-installed polyurethane-based bedliner, in any color you like.
So long as it's black.
In the replacement market, color is a bit of a gimmick to some companies, and the pigmentation affects performance, said Larry Dominique, Nissan's chief product specialist for trucks and sport-utility vehicles. But black is ultraviolet-stable and suited to Nissan's first full-size pickup.
``This truck is a serious truck,'' he said.
Nissan will launch initial production of about 100,000 Titan King Cab pickups in December. About half will include a sprayed-in liner as part of a high utility package.
The aftermarket bedliner segment has seen double-digit growth for three years running, proof that there also is a market for factory-installed options, Dominique said.
Rhino Linings U.S.A. Inc., the leading replacement market producer of bedliner materials, already supplies several assembly plants around the world, but the applications are very specialized and only in limited runs, said Russell Lewis, Rhino president and CEO.
``We do see that changing in the future, as (original equipment manufacturers) re-evaluate their limiting production requirements,'' he said.
Current fuel efficiency standards restrict the amount of weight an OE sprayed-on lining can add to the truck bed, but the aftermarket is not subject to the same rules. ``So we can add the correct amount of lining needed to adequately protect the truck bed,'' Lewis said.
Nissan approached Rhino Linings but wanted the aftermarket company to ``compromise'' spray thickness, Lewis said. The Titan bedliner, which Russell contends ``is not much more than a speckled paint coating,'' is one-tenth as thick as a Rhino Linings bedliner, ``which does not meet our quality standards,'' he said.
Lewis acknowledges the Titan liner is UV-stable ``since it's similar to a paint,'' but said Rhino Linings deliver the same stability by offering a UV coating over its products, which come in five different colors.
Aftermarket liners were too thick and too soft to meet Nissan's abrasion and temperature durability requirements, and most weren't UV-stable, Dominique said. ``Some in the aftermarket actually failed our tests after less than one year's worth of required testing.''
Nissan began talking to companies like PPG Industries Inc. and the Dow Automotive division of Dow Chemical Co. to come up with longer-lasting materials for its bedliner, finally settling on a polyurethane-based material from PPG.
The car maker had the advantage of being able to work the line into a new plant it was building in Canton, Miss. It invested $20 million to put the coating line in up front, but the investment would have been much greater had it waited, Dominique said. Expenses down the road would have included not only integration costs, but also the expense of complying with an Environmental Protection Agency inspection on existing lines as well as the new line.
In the Canton factory, robots first apply a thin base coating of polyurethane over the primer. Because the material-the result of an aliphatic isocynate system-is preheated to about 140°F and dispensed at pressure of about 100 pounds per square inch, it dries within seconds. An outer, textured coat then is applied. All total, it takes nearly five gallons of material to coat the six-and-a-half-foot pickup bed.
Nissan still is finalizing the outer spray pattern but is leaning toward a pebble finish rather than the sandpaper look of its prototype debuted at the recent North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Dominique said.
Feedback on the spray-in bedliner was positive at the Detroit show, not only from show attendees because of the three-year, 36,000-mile warranty that covers it, but also from other auto makers, he said.
``A lot of the domestic (car maker) management saw it and said they were really impressed with how professional it looked,'' Dominique said.
Nissan's decision to add a sprayed-on bedliner underscores the fact that there is a demand for the product and endorses the idea that plastic drop-in liners don't do an adequate job, Lewis said. ``Nissan's product is a polyurethane coating like ours, but that's where the similarities end.''
Unlike Rhino Linings, the Titan liner is not flexible and does not have a non-skid surface to protect cargo loads, he said.
``I think that once consumers experience these differences in sprayed-on bedlining quality between Nissan and Rhino Linings, this can only be good for our sales.''