"We are not aiming for controversy," Hirshberg says, "but this thing is going to be noticed. It's exactly what we meant. We can't hide behind the excuse: 'Well, the engineers screwed it up.' It came through the process just as we intended it to.
"The neat thing about the Japanese is the degree of consensus work that goes on. Though we're outside of headquarters and protected to some extent by an ocean and a cultural gap, at the same time we're closely linked. We think of ourselves as 'outside insiders.' We don't really collaborate with their designers, but the Japanese engineers became part of a team with us.
"And, boy, when the ball gets rolling and we begin negotiating, and then by the time we're finished, they honor that design totally. When it started rolling off the production line, our jaws dropped open at the degree of adherence to the initial concept."
The '86 1/2 truck, introduced in January, improves on its predecessor in other ways as well. Its wheelbase is more than three inches longer, for better ride, while its front and rear track widths have been increased by about three inches and one inch, respectively, for better handling and stability. Its optional overhead-cam, fuel-injected V-6 engine (similar to the one in the 300-ZX and Maxima) is the largest in its class. It has the most ground clearance, the biggest standard fuel capacity and the deepest and widest cargo bed in the compact category.
As successful as the new truck is likely to be, the next obvious question is how soon this pioneering two-design concept might be extended to the company's passenger cars. "I think it's safe to assume that the same logic applies," Hirshberg answers cagily. "Nissan is making strides to make internationalism more than just a word. Until now, it's meant that our products are sold in a lot of different countries. Now they're going to be adapted and attuned to those countries."
When Jerry Hirshberg first took that fateful call seven years ago, it may have seemed like a practical joke. But it may well have been not only his future and Nissan's, but that of a whole industry, on the line.