Rich Miller, Chief Product Specialist, Nissan Titan and Armada - Interview
Rich Miller was born in Phoenix, Arizona, the son of a U.S. Air Force pilot and grandson of ranchers and farmers on both sides of his family. His lifetime love of trucks began with a 1968 F-250 regular-cab pickup his friends called "Grandpa" because it looked like Jesse Duke's truck on "The Dukes of Hazzard."
"I learned everything trying to keep it together in the Arizona heat," he recalls. "As a high-school kid with no money, I had to learn to fix it myself."
After many Air Force family moves, Miller returned to Phoenix to finish high school and attend Arizona State University. Armed with a degree in mechanical engineering, he went to work at Nissan's Arizona Proving Grounds in 1995 doing durability and reliability testing of Hardbody compact trucks, the Frontier Crew Cab, and the first Xterra SUV. He served on the engineering team for the first full-size Titan, then in 2006 moved to Nissan's Franklin, Tennessee, headquarters as senior manager for Titan, Armada, Pathfinder, Xterra, and Frontier. He was promoted to chief product specialist (CPS).
Truck Trend: What is a CPS?
Rich Miller: The chief product specialist is in charge of the entire concept and product for a given model. It's my job to bring the vehicle and business case to the program director, who can then approve it to move forward. Typically, this position is in Japan because it works very closely with the executives there, but three of us are out in the regions -- myself, one other in Detroit, and one in Europe. Our program is so centered in this region that they want me here to gather the voice of the customer, and they're getting ready to move the engineering of my vehicles from Japan to the U.S., so it will be best for me to be here to work with the engineers and the sales and marketing people to start developing our marketing strategy.
TT: Was part of your role on that first Titan providing input on what North American customers wanted?
RM: Yes. The team relied on the American engineers for a lot of input. We'd done compact trucks, but this was a bigger truck with different users, so we were doing a lot more research. It was a good time for U.S. Nissan engineers to work on a program where we had more responsibility.
TT: What is your product philosophy?
RM: To give our customers what they want. That seems simple, but it's very difficult trying to determine what each of 1.5-1.6 million full-size pickup buyers each year in North America really wants. We spend a ton of time in focus groups, and I do a lot of in-home interviews. When I'm hunting in Kansas, I'll see someone with a truck in a restaurant and talk to him about his vehicle to understand what he wants in his next one. Innovation starts from those coffee-shop talks.
TT: Before the Chrysler bankruptcy, Nissan was to have a version of the new Ram.
RM: I had a good working relationship with my Chrysler counterparts, and we learned some things from them. It was interesting how their process worked and how ours fit. But we decided to take different paths, which is one reason we're behind in getting the next Titan out. We would have been launching it this year, but had to go back and start from square one, which set us back a couple of years.
TT: Now you'll have to compete with that Ram, the Fords, and new GMs.
RM: We're up for the challenge. When we developed that first Titan, we saw a lot of unmet needs. In focus groups, we were inundated with, "Why doesn't a truck do this?" So it had unique selling points: the spray-in bed liner, the channel system in the bed, the 168-degree door on the King Cab model. Then Ford, GM, and Chrysler reacted quickly, and now you see a lot of innovation in this segment.
TT: After the Chrysler deal went south, some thought Nissan might walk away from full-size trucks. It takes a very large investment to earn even a small share of that segment.
RM: From a business-case standpoint, it's a very large part of the U.S. market. And full-size truck customers are very loyal, so if we can get them on our side, that helps SUV and Altima sales. The difficult part is conquesting them over, which means we have to give them a better product than what they can get someplace else. We have to draw people to us and get their attention away from what they are currently driving, and we definitely have some game-changers up our sleeve. The entire company is very focused and determined and has high confidence in this product. It has come together exactly where we want it to be.
In every issue, Truck Trend interviews people involved in designing, building, and equipping current and future trucks. Have any suggestions for interviews you'd like to see? Email us at email@example.com -- Ed Loh.