By on November 1, 2011

On the way to TTAC’s Southern Tour, I filled some of the gaps in my automotive history by reading Car Wars by Robert Sobel. Written in the same year that Nissan opened its first US plant, a sprawling complex in Smyrna, Car Wars documents the early years of the Detroit-Import wars, starting with the Beetle and ending with the rise of the transplant factories. The book is full of lessons, but its most rattling reminders was that Nissan was the major Japanese automaker during the early days of the Japanese industry. Nearly thirty years after Car Wars was written, Nissan often gets lost in Honda and Toyota’s shadow when it comes to perceptions of the Japanese OEMs. And lately Nissan has fallen off more than a few radar screens for the simple fact that its key products are aging: Sentra, Maxima and Altima were introduced for the 2007 model-year, while Rogue is just a year younger. Together these four models account for over half of Nissan’s monthly volume… and yet despite this aged core lineup, Nissan’s sales (as a brand) are up over 17 percent year-to-date, maintaining the brand’s consistent growth.

And, after touring the Smyrna facility last week, Nissan’s VP for Communications David Reuter told us that this fact was what made him so optimistic about Nissan’s future. If sales are doing this well with product this old, he wondered aloud, what might happen if.. say, models representing 75% of Nissan’s sales volume were replaced in a two-year span? He admitted that one of the brand’s biggest issues was breaking through the Honda-Toyota monopoly on media perceptions of Japanese automakers, and he suggested that a new product blitz was the only way to really accomplish that. I was reminded of the current darling of the mass-market brands, Hyundai, which grew sales steadily with aging and stolid but value-laden products, before replacing its entire lineup with eye-catching new models. Could a fresh batch of new designs do the same for Nissan?

Of course, a lot of that depends on product execution. Hyundai would not have garnered the attention it has if it had replaced its entire lineup with new but dowdy or uninspired models. And on that front the picture is still mixed: critics have been cruel to Nissan’s newest car, the Versa, but consumers have been snapping them up in the first two months of sales. Meanwhile, the brand’s recent niche products (Juke, Murano CC) have received mixed and polarized responses. And Nissan’s got a raft of new technology to play with for its new cars, including a next-gen CVT and its first-ever in-house front-drive hybrid system (look for Bertel to bring you more on that from Japan shortly). And though the brand likely won’t be jumping on the turbocharging bandwagon wholesale, it seems likely that our prayers have been answered and that the Juke’s delightful 1.6 turbo engine will make its way into an SE-R-type vehicle to celebrate the revamped lineup. This couldn’t hurt Nissan’s flagging reputation for sporting mass-market vehicles.

One thing is certain: Nissan may not get a lot of press these days, but the brand has been thriving given where it is in its key product cycles. If the new high-volume models (which Reuter says we’ll learn more about at the Detroit Auto Show) bring some pizzaz back to the brand, it could well be poised to exploit Honda’s recent product weaknesses and Toyota’s battered image. With the right execution, we could find ourselves returning to a time when Toyota and Nissan are once again the Japanese standard-bearers. On the other hand, Detroit isn’t sleeping on the competition the way it once was. And Hyundai will certainly have a few things to say about any company looking to steal its momentum.

So while we wait to learn more about Nissan’s upcoming product blitz, we’re curious to hear your take on the brand’s fortunes. What explains Nissan’s resilience in the face of old product? Do you expect the new products to vault the brand into the “hot” category, or do the downsides of recent products like Versa and Murano CC leave you a bit suspicious? Will Nissan surpass Honda as a leading Japanese brand, or is the Honda-Toyota duopoly cemented in the minds of consumers? What do you hope to see from the next-generation of Nissans? So many questions…

[Disclosure: Nissan bought me lunch when I toured their facilities in Smyrna and Franklin, and I am about to be bought dinner by the company in Seattle, where I will be hearing more about this subject from Director of Product Planning Mark Perry. If you have any questions for Mark, you have a few hours to post them in the comments below]

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85 Comments on “Ask The Best And Brightest: Is Nissan About To “Pull A Hyundai”?...”


  • avatar

    Age is not everything. Look at Ford Escape.

    • 0 avatar
      philadlj

      +1

      The next-gen Ford Escape will be a radical departure from the upright truckish profile of the current, much-loved, much-bought model, resembling a Focus on stilts more than a truck. I wonder how that will affect the success the old Escape currently enjoys.

      • 0 avatar
        Rental Man

        The Escape appears larger then it is. The Box works. I had to prove to many customers and employees how the Box made them see it as larger then a Rav4. It has smaller back seat leg room and in the American Rav4 the trunk is much longer.

        Maybe they offer it really cheap in Rural areas.

        I must say that I actually liked it from 2009 and up with the 6 speed Auto and the better 4 Cyl.

  • avatar
    Bowler300

    We lease an Altima for my 78 year old mother. She loves it and I actually like it also. I never thought that we would like the same car. If I needed a 4 door sedan, this is probably what I would get. (Fortunately, I can get by with 2 doors and as many seats).

  • avatar
    Lichtronamo

    Minor point but the current generation Maxima debuted in 2009. If they junked the CVT or at least offered a manual again in the Nissan brand’s flagship 4DSC I might consider buying one again.

    • 0 avatar
      FromaBuick6

      I’m not setting foot in a Nissan showroom until they offer an alternative to that awful CVT. It completely ruined the the Altima 3.5 SE I drove.

      • 0 avatar
        stubydoo

        Those awful CVT’s seem to be passing the market test. I doesn’t make much difference whether us manual transmission drivers like the cars or not, sadly. Plus, back when the Maxima did offer a manual, not many people bought them (I know this since my most recent car purchase was a used Maxima with MT – a real needle in the haystack).

      • 0 avatar
        Detroit-X

        CVTs are deal-breakers for me too. They act, sound, feel, very unappealing. Rev-waaaaaaaaAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA! Ick.

      • 0 avatar
        dolorean

        stuby you’re remembering a long way back. Back when the Maxima coined the term “four door sports car” with logo 4DSC on the back windows. Still remember the commercials.

      • 0 avatar
        bunkie

        I had four straight MT Maxima SEs. Great cars.

        My wife has a thing against Maximas and if it weren’t for that and the CVT, it would be on my list.

  • avatar
    Acubra

    Maxima was completely overhauled for M2009.
    Edit: the previous comment beat me to that. And I agree with the CVT statement. I would consider it with MT, heck, even AT. Not CVT though…

  • avatar
    racer-esq.

    Questions for Director of Product Planning Mark Perry:

    1) Will there be a new Silvia to go up against the FT-86?

    2) What’s the deal with Infiniti? Will it continue to be a RWD only brand, or is it going to move to selling tarted up FWD Nissans? How is this all related to the Mercedes partnership?

    • 0 avatar
      SevenIM

      I think its going to be a wait and see game with the FT-86. Hyundai Genesis coupe has sold pretty well so far, so if the FT sells even better then I think its going to be a bit of an eye opener for other automakers to see that there is potential in this market and cheap sports cars no longer have to be just hatchbacks. If the potential is there, I have little doubt that Nissan will want a piece of it.

    • 0 avatar
      22_RE_Speedwagon

      The new JX is FWD

    • 0 avatar
      lubbock57

      Infiniti is hardly a RWD only brand…..the G, M and FX are available with AWD.

      • 0 avatar
        zerofoo

        I think what racer-esq. is implying that all of the platforms are RWD and then adapted to AWD. The infiniti recipe seems to be longitudinal engine, transmission, and transfer case with a rear differential. This is unlike some car companies that use a FWD platform with a transverse engine and transmission with a front differential and transfer case.

  • avatar
    gslippy

    The Versa’s success may be emulating the new Jetta and Passat – give ‘em vanilla for a good price.

    One key to Hyundai’s success is their warranty.

    Nissan has to substantially restyle the Altima – it’s tough to distinguish a 2012 from a 2002 model.

  • avatar
    hriehl1

    For Mr. Perry
    Why doesn’t a full-line maker like Nissan sell one station wagon? I don’t want a Juke, or a Rogue, or a Versa hatch… I just want a plain old small station wagon… say a Versa or Sentra.

    It just seems to me that offering a wagon variant simply provides more sales for an already-engineered platform.

    • 0 avatar
      JKC

      Wagons are, alas, thin on the ground. None of the domestics offer one any more. Honda is the only Japanese company that offers one, and Hyundai’s only offering is the Elantra Touring. The Europeans used to be the wagon kings in the 2000′s, but VW is slowly moving away from wagons. There’s no new Passat wagon, for example.

      Sorry for the pedantic rant: all I’m saying is that Nissan is not alone in not offering a choice of wagons.

      • 0 avatar
        dolorean

        Nissan in the late 80′s, early 90′s had three good wagons for sale. The Maxima, Stanza, and Sentra all had wagons, not to mention a couple of other iterations in the offering. The Sentra in particular came in six different varieties from three/five doors, two/four door coupes, a sport hatch, and a wagon. Today’s Sentra is a pallid offering in comparison.

      • 0 avatar
        dhanson865

        Toyota sells the horribly named Prius v that I have to call Prius v (Wagon) to keep people from being confused with the Prius V which I now call the Gen III Prius five.

        And they also sell the Matrix which is classified as a wagon.

        Per http://www.fueleconomy.gov we have

        Prius v – Midsize Station Wagon
        Prius – Midsize Car
        Camry Hybrid – Midsize Car
        Matrix – Small Station Wagon
        Yaris – Subcompact Car

        are we quibbling over the definition of a station wagon or do you somehow think of Honda as Japanese and Toyota as not Japanese?

  • avatar
    M.S. Smith

    I think Nissan could “pull a Hyundai” certainly.

    Honda and Toyota, after a long period of being the obvious king, are beginning to see enthusiasm for their brands cool. They are still the predictable, reliable choice – but the cars from many other sources are also reliable, or at least reliable enough. Now is the time to take consumers away from them.

    Nissan, for its part, has always sold much better than you’d think if you asked an enthusiast about their cars. This is because their cars are very good at all the things most consumers need (safe, spacious, good feature content), but don’t have the utter dullness and bloated styling of the traditional Japanese big-two.

    So yea, Nissan could do well. I think their reputation is solid among consumers. But ultimately this will come down to the cars themselves, and since we don’t know what they are, or what they look like, it’s hard to make any predictions.

  • avatar
    Amendment X

    Nissans are CHEAP. Nissan gets VALUE in much the same way as the Koreans do. The product is not class leading in styling, technology, gas mileage, comfort, etc., but it is priced below its competition. Japanese “quality” for less. It’s no surprise that their recent growth spurt correlates pretty well with the collapse of the American economy.

    But find me a Nissan “fanboy.” They don’t really exist anymore. Nissans are purchased with the left side of the brain. They do not elicit much emotion but deliver on value. Simple appliances are, unfortunately, what most consumers want and they understand that very well.

    • 0 avatar
      mike978

      +1
      Ed – thanks for posting this article – I had been thinking Nissan seem to be ignored in discussions by the B&B on here yet they continue to increase sales. As others have said age is not everything if the car has other positive attributes. The Escape is a good example of that and the Jetta and Corolla are proving that “plain” works in mainstream segments. Nissan have shown engineering prowess with the GT-R and hopefully can leverage that into more sporty models.

    • 0 avatar
      NN

      Exactly. Go to Truecar.com and see which midsize sedans you can buy brand new for $16k. In my area it’s the Altima. Have you driven or ridden in a rental-spec Altima? It’s horridly cheap, with a whiny CVT. Yet people still buy them in droves because a) they’re cheap and b) the brand name still trades on the strength of the historical quality. It remains to be seen if their huge gamble on CVT’s will ruin this 2nd point.
      The Versa is the cheapest car on the market, and spacious, yet with a respectable brand name. That is all that many people in the market will care about.

  • avatar
    EEGeek

    Nissan, along with a great many other makers, lose me completely by not offering a manual transmission in anything other than their lowest end offerings. I like to drive and I like the control and feeling of engagement that the clutch provides – fuel economy or shift speeds be damned.

    I just put down a deposit to order a VW Sportwagen TDI, which won out by a nose over the Focus hatch. I was looking for five doors. I might have been willing to look at a Versa hatch or Cube, except that anything halfway interesting (not a penalty box) requires the CVT, which I utterly despise. The Juke is better in offering a stick, but it just looks too much like an insect for my taste. And of course the Rogue is not offered with a stick at all.

    Maybe Woody Allen had it right – 80% of success is showing up. For me, at least, Nissan isn’t bothering to show up.

    • 0 avatar
      Banger

      EEGeek, you could get a Cube S, with power windows/locks/mirrors, cruise control, A/C, AM/FM/CD/MP3, Bluetooth, a bevy of optional features (lighted stainless steel kickplates? “Interior Designer Package” neon lights under the dash? etc.), all with a manual transmission. You might have had to order it and wait a few weeks for it to arrive from Oppama, Japan (which also means you’d likely have to pay sticker price), but hey…it’s there. Not sure about the Versa as I haven’t went to their website to build one, but I know for sure the Cube S is available with either M/T or CVT.

      We chose the CVT because my wife can’t drive a manual transmission. Honestly, once you relearn how to drive with a CVT, it’s pretty cool. It’s possible to more or less glide up to in-town (<40 mph) cruising speeds at less than 1,500 rpms without becoming a road obstruction or anything, which does wonderful things for fuel economy. On the highway, it turns ~2,500 rpms at 70 mph (which is better by far than my M/T-equipped Ford Ranger, by the way.)

      Problem is most people mash on the go pedal and expect to hear a traditional automatic's shift points. We appreciate it for what it is. Doesn't hurt that we had experience with ATVs that had "automatic" transmissions that operated almost exactly like the Xtronic CVT in the Cube. You mash the gas, it picks the most efficient mix of torque and horsepower for that throttle setting, and it holds there until you back off the throttle.

      • 0 avatar
        Rental Man

        Banger, I keep on seeing this here from time to time. Years ago when I sold cars we would be able to lock the price and incentives on Mopar products. We would write up a Buyers order that said Vehicle to be sold $500 (Or whatever) over invoice and take a nice deposit. We told the customer the deposit was non-refundable and would be applied to the final deal when the car arrived 6-8 weeks later. My boss at the time told me that if the customer dislikes the car we actually do refund the deposit. That just never happened. Ordering a Nissan was not much different either. We never sold the car at full MSRP just because they were special orders. I sold in an area where ordering your next German cars was common. Those customers would not pay full price when they ordered a non A/C Wrangler or a M/T Wood sided PTcruiser…

  • avatar
    SherbornSean

    Sorry, but Nissan only did well this year for 2 reasons:
    – they underprice competitors
    – Honda and Toyota were production constrained due to the Tsunami

    Once Honda and Toyota are back, Nissan will be back to its position as the one to get if you wanted the refinement of an Accord or Highlander, but decided to save a couple grand instead.

    • 0 avatar
      vbofw

      SherbornSean, excellent points on why Nissan is outgrowing themarket this year. Nice to see somebody look beyond the headline +17% growth number.

      But the premise of this article is creative, whether they could be the next Hyundai. It is certainly possible. And with Hyundai, Kia, and VW carving out their niches nicely, and the Detroit 3 putting out respectable products, I can only see this ending in further share erosion for Toyonda and their uninspiring offerings.

    • 0 avatar
      Pch101

      Nissan only did well this year for 2 reasons:
      – they underprice competitors
      – Honda and Toyota were production constrained due to the Tsunami

      I would bet that you could add fleet sales as a third.

      The interesting thing is that in terms of unit sales, the growth has been strongest among the domestics. Comparing January-October CYTD figures for 2011 to 2010, some results:

      -GM: 270k
      -Chrysler: 211k
      -Ford: 167k
      -Nissan: 113k
      -Kia: 106k
      -Hyundai: 93k
      -VW (including Audi): 64k

      Both GM and Chrysler had more of an increase than did Hyundai and Kia combined. Nissan had more than either Kia or Hyundai individually.

      To look at it another way, 2011 CYTD sales were 959k units higher in 2011 than in 2010. Add to that the (tsunami) shrinkage experienced by Honda and TMC, and that leaves about 1.14 million more sales for everyone else to take.

      Of that 1.14 million, GM captured about 24% of the total, while Chrysler and Ford got about 19% and 15%, respectively. Nissan took 10%, while Kia picked up about 9% of it and Hyundai added 8% of that gain.

      What is impressive about Hyundai is that it is not only gaining share, but that it is shedding fleet sales in favor of retail — not only is it getting more sales, but more “better” sales. I doubt that Nissan will be able to make that same claim once all of the numbers are in, nor will the domestics.

  • avatar
    Maxger

    Again about the maxima. I driven one for over 10 yrs and I want a manual transmission. There are too many other car that compete with the maxima that have the same level; of performance and Gadgets but none have a manual. This would set the maxima apart and a sale from me. Nissan has to take a step back(yes back) get the maxima back to where it once belong. Bring the manual Transmission back.

    My question to Nissan. Why does Nissan create the Juke and the topless Murano and they will not take a chance on putting a Manual in a maxima? What’s up?? Let Hiroshi Tamura finish the job and put a manual in it. Make it a special edition and it will sell. The 350Z and the altima coupe has the technology apply it to the maxima.

    • 0 avatar
      22_RE_Speedwagon

      As a former Maxima owner, I too long for a true return of the 4DSC, and that means no more CVT. As a current G35 owner, I don’t see that happening. That role is played by the g37 sedan now – same engine with more HP, RWD, available manual, better warranty, and the price isn’t that much different. The only advantage to the Max is the interior room provided by the FWD layout.

      • 0 avatar
        Maxger

        I agree with your comment. But I do not want to step up to a G37. The maxima has more than enough performance. I think the G37 would get me in more trouble with the law plus I usually have 2 kids in the back seat. The problem is with the Kia and Hyundai offerings. I would be willing to step down and not up to a G (could afford it easily) and get a better bang for the buck. Not as nice no but still it would suffice. A 6 speed would take out common sense and nostalgia would take over.

        The g37 is a great car though and a good deal compared to it counterparts. (bmw, acura and audi)

      • 0 avatar
        Rental Man

        There are no longer and high powered Manual Vehicles in the mass market. Accord, Altima, Camry, Mazda6 & Legacy only arrive with 4cyl MT if they bother at all. That or a coupe.
        Infiniti G does not offer a base MT. No G25 or base G37. No. fully blown out G37 with so many mandated options. Thanx. Acura RL 6SPD AWD is there as well.

        If you want to shift by yourself you are shopping German. VW, BMW and Audi. Order exactly what you like and live the dream.

        Another case of the 99%…

  • avatar
    Sinistermisterman

    My colleague owns 3 10-15 year old Nissans (two Maxima’s and an Altima). All have done over 150k miles, all are in regular service with various family members, and the only thing that ever seems to go wrong with any of them are the occasional o2 sensors. Mechanically they are as solid as rocks.
    From talking with other Nissan/Infiniti owners, they all seem very happy with their comfortable, well made cars that don’t cost a small fortune to maintain. And therein IMHO lies Nissan’s success.

    • 0 avatar
      Prado

      Pre-Ghosn Nissans were quality cars if a bit boring. He joined the company in 1999. Since then it has been style over substance.

      • 0 avatar
        stuki

        The style and price over substance.

        To be fair, my experiences with the brand recently, is limited to the 350Z, 370Z and the G&M Infitis, as well as that pickup. Not the bigger selling fwd sedans.

        Based on those, however, all I can say is Honda left so much money on the table by not producing a line of Japanese RWD cars to compete with the Germans, as beating Nissan’s offerings at that particular game cannot possibly be difficult.

    • 0 avatar
      tonycd

      Compared to my old 4DSC Maxima, the one I scoped out at the showroom the other day was built like the aluminum foil tent I erected over my Thanksgiving turkey just before I put it in the oven. I swear that when I slammed the driver’s door shut, the whole frame around it shook.

  • avatar
    lightford

    I’ll go ahead and say up front that I may have a bit of a Nissan bias though I can’t go into specifics. Now, with that out of the way…

    I think Nissan has many good, competitive products. I believe they have walked the fine line of customer wants/needs, government regulations and the almighty yen (to name a few influences) pretty well, especially for the past decade.

    I’d also like to address the comment about “not class leading”. Tell me, which Japanese company is leading in style, technology, etc.? I’m curious how you grade the more subjective categories. In terms of tech, I can name a few “first to market segment” for Nissan in the past 5 years. There are other mfgs. who bring new, fresh things to market as well but that doesn’t make Nissan an “also ran” in general.

    And the poor opinions of CVTs are way out of hand IMHO. The customers and government wanted better gas mileage so Nissan goes the route of the CVT, among other things. So what if it feels less sporty? That’s not what the majority of customers asked for. And besides, what is the definition of sporty? Does it truly involve a shifting transmission? I bet some “sporting boaters” would say no (this is purely an assumptive remark – boater comments welcome).

    And before you think I’m some kind of sissy driver, well, you’ll have to trust my word when I say I’m not. I have many AutoXs under my belt and I definitely appreciate the sporty side of cars. And guess what, Nissan sells a car that is fairly well made for that. It’s called a 370Z – and I can even get it with a manual transmission. If I want something sporty I am not looking at a 4 door. 2 doors with 2 seats (4 seats if the rear seats are really only good for storage) is part of my definition of sporty. And the market speaks loud and clear when you try to sell that manual transmission in a 4 door family hauler… same goes for a wagon made from any sedan. I can’t tell you why Americans don’t like wagons. I would love a Nissan wagon. But the market just won’t buy them in enough quantity to justify the revised tooling, etc. Of course markets can change… Maybe if Subaru finally starts to become a major market competitor then other manufacturers will change their mind.

    So, to round everything up: Any manufacturer would be crazy to chase every niche market because that’s a losing battle in terms of earnings. Unfortunately the “sporty” (read manual trans) category of almost all segments has become niche. So Nissan provides a few niche products, most of which are probably a lose on the ledger, to try to stir some enthusiast interest. “Fanboy-ism” can be good and I think Nissan knows that. Of course, perceptions are hard to break. It’s a slow but sure road and I think Nissan is on it.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    I have only one thing to say: Make your cars attractive. Not just in body shape, but make them stand out with appropriate bright trim and inviting interior details. Drop the color “charcoal” from your color palette as to interior color. Oh yes – continue to make them comfortable, economical and the sporty models fun to drive. The 2.5S rental I drove back in May was OK, but too drab for my taste.

  • avatar
    "scarey"

    New SMALL pickup please ? Smaller than the current Frontier, please.
    Pretty please.

    • 0 avatar
      Banger

      x2. I’d go back to Nissan pickups if they could make a 30+ mpg model. Currently, the Fronty is a far cry from the 29-30 mpg highway I get from my 2006 Ranger. That’s what knocked the Fronty out of the running when I last shopped for a new truck. The Ranger does everything I need it to do in terms of hauling and gets an honest 30 mpg. The Fronty can’t match the efficiency unless and until they downsize it and/or invest into a more-efficient powertrain a’la Ford’s F-series engines.

  • avatar
    TonyJZX

    Nissan’s reputation outside of the US is strong especially in RHD markets where they get an influx of the 1990s heyday of Nissan sports rwd models.

    I suppose this is all a part of the Carlos Ghosn 8/8/8 plan for 2016?

    I have no doubt they will hit this mark given they seem to have released above average models to replace their slightly dowdy old hat range.

    Nissan do have the enthusiast ‘zeitgeist’… we see a fair few R35s around and people know what they are and what they achieve.

    They seem to make good 4wds… from Xtrails to Qashqai/Dualis to Pathfinders to Patrols to Muranos to… well they have a lot…

    They seem to have good small cars with the new Tiida and Juke.

    They need to firm up FWD medium sedans.

    They have good sports models although nowhere near as strong as they did before but then no one was as strong as Nissan for rwd.

    They have Infiniti which is no Lexus but a good halo effort.

    Their Leaf is interesting and puts a foot into LEVs.

    They have good representaton in commericials with the NV200 and the rebadged Renaults.

    China likes Nissan.

    They have a strong alliance with Daimler.

    I don’t think they have much to worry about unlike Honda. They will hit 8/8/8 before 2015…

  • avatar
    don1967

    If Nissan is about to pull a Hyundai, then judging from the new Versa I’d say it’s more like 1980s Hyundai: One or two unique selling propositions, wrapped up in a third-world package sold at third-world prices.

    From the recycled “Sentra Classic” sold here in Canada 20 years ago, to some of Carlos Ghosn’s more recent cost-cut-crap, too many of Nissan’s sales successes have come from its least-honorable products. It’s a shame coming from the same company that built the original 300ZX, Maxima, Sentra SE-R, etc., and it doesn’t appear likely to change anytime soon.

  • avatar
    bodayguy

    As someone who owned two 350Zs, put 400 hp in the Z and keep the price in the 30-40K range. And make it look less like a catfish mouth. I’d be back.

    I agree with others: Nissan sales are up because the product is old and they can sell em cheaper. Not a lasting strategy.

  • avatar
    JMII

    I’ve got no complains with my newly acquired 350 Z, but the Versa I have as a rental this week for business is horrible. I think Nissan has the same problem as Mazda: good products in general, with sporty concepts behind them, but a lack of market draw. People just forget about them because because the competition tries harder. Funny thing is both companies (Mazda and Nissan) have dedicated fans to the niche products: Miata and Z, while the vanilla are just that: so plain they are off the radar. The Maxima is all kinds of wrong right now, I remember when it came out and was fighting with BMW as true “saloon” car, a 4 door sports car. Now that is Infiniti’s world and Nissan has been left behind. I would be OK with that if they dropped the Maxima, but for some reason its still around. I just can’t figure out why, who would buy one when the G37S can be had?

    • 0 avatar
      Maxger

      The reason the maxima is still aound is because it still sells.
      CYTD for Oct sales for maxima 49000
      CYTD for Oct sales for G37 (coupe & Sedan) 46000
      CYTD for Oct sales for Infiniti cars (coupe & Sedan) 56000

      CYTD for Oct Sales for the 370z – 6500
      CYTD for Oct Sales for the Juke – 30344

  • avatar
    robdaemon

    I drive a 2008 Maxima 3.5SE now. There are things I like about the car, but I don’t think I’d purchase another one for a few reasons:

    * I hate the CVT. I’ve learned to drive it and be somewhat aggressive with it. I still don’t like it.
    * THIS CAR RATTLES EVERYWHERE. For that price tag, it SHOULD NOT make noise.
    * It has a 20 gallon gas tank. It always reports itself as being completely empty (trip computer says *** miles remaining, gauge at E, light on) with 5 gallons remaining. Nissan says “this is normal.”

    At the time I bought it, December 2007, I was happy with the technology/infotainment. I still like the seats. We cross-shopped an Accord V6, TL and Altima. The Altima’s seats sucked. The TL felt cramped. The Accord was boring. The Maxima was the best compromise for our needs at the time.

    I really like the exterior and interior styling in the current generation of the Maxima, but if it still has any of the above issues, I would never even consider the newer model.

  • avatar
    crinklesmith

    Does the Leaf come into play with any of this?

  • avatar
    MadHungarian

    My only recent experience with Nissan has been two rentals. One was an Altima which was a very roomy car but was almost impossible to drive smoothly. The accelerator and brake were both very difficult to modulate. Couple that with a suspension that seemed generally predisposed to a pitchy ride and the result was seasick passengers. The other one was a Cube. It was actually easier to drive and smoother, but mostly it is trying so hard to be different that it forgets that different is not necessarily better. The vertical design probably gives it a high EPA interior volume rating but most of that real estate is not usable. The gas filler door release is tucked under the dash in such a low and inaccessible place that I finally had to Google an owners manual online and then squat down next to the open driver’s door to find it. Also, more so than all kinds of other craptastic rental cars I have had over the years, the Cube was by far most likely to draw the reaction “What on earth is that THING you are driving?”

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    We lease an Altima for my 78 year old mother. She loves it and I actually like it also.

    And this astounds me, if only because I identify with your mother’s position. Her (and my mom’s generation) were raised on domestics, back when your position in life was reflected by your Chevy/Pontiac/Olds/Buick/Caddy etc.

    My parents would only drive Buicks, period, even if used was all they could afford. Yet us kids all had imports.

    After much campaigning by me, Mom’s last car was a 2005 Camry LE. She was like a little kid in how she zipped around in that thing and marveled at how manuverable and reliable it was.

    An amazing journey by that generation….

  • avatar
    potatobreath

    I hope I can get an “Ocean Surf” Cube with a 6MT before Nissan stops offering them in Canada. The colour reminds me of the Nissan Paos that roam Vancouver.

    • 0 avatar
      Banger

      Best advice is to just pony up MSRP and custom-order one. A good Nissan dealer should be willing to do this for you. If you’re talking a base Cube, the MSRP isn’t so badly priced, anyway. The Cube S has more nice options but is going to cost a couple grand more, at least.

  • avatar
    morbo

    A pro-Japanese auto maker posting with negative criticism of Honda and Toyota. There must be a regular poster whom’s head is exploding right now.

    As for Nissan, meh. Too many CVT horror stories for me; I personally know of 2 Murano’s with kerploded transmissions. I’m shopping now, with 300, Taurus SHO, and Genesis in that order on my list. The Maxima would be on that list if not for the CVT.

  • avatar
    Tinker

    I’m guessing Nissan will be an also-ran, not at the top of the market. Not the worst seller but an also ran at the bottom end, as well.

    I like CVTs, I’ve even owned a couple of scooters with 200cc “power” plants, and a CVT and I’m wondering how the nissan CVT would respond to changing the weights to get the transmission to let the engine spool up faster? But if no one makes a new set of weights, it’s not going to happen.

    I’d go a for a third world sort of truck, as well, smaller, tougher (MORE RELIABLE) than an F150, an inline 6, maybe, or a I5. Hey, i’d go for the Juke if it ran on regular octane, (Close my eyes and think of 188 hp), though I’d still like to know that on rougher secondary roads, with the AWD and more sophisticated, heavier suspension, if it would ride smoother than an Isuzu Rodeo. (Or is the suspension just a gimmick?)

  • avatar
    JonKessler

    The Infiniti EX may be the worst selling model in America, but I like it. Everything the AMC Pacer would want to be, and no service issues 50,000 miles in.

  • avatar
    Advo

    So much competition now.

    You would think styling sells, although plain vanilla seems to sell the most when coupled with other qualities like reliability, patriotism, VW’s European cachet, or value for money.

    I don’t know what the general perception of Nissan’s quality is. Is it good because it’s a Japanese name or with the rest of the pack since they mostly have decent quality now?

    If it’s going for value for money, how can it keep the margins up with new vehicles that have product development to pay for?

    What I would like to see, besides a re-confirmation that the quality is as good as Japanese branded products here should be, is two things. That the styling is as esthetically pleasing as the Nissan Altima still is. In my mind, it is still a very good blend of sportiness without going to extremes. Every other mid-sized sedan didn’t get that sporty look right until the new Sonata, and that may be too extreme for a lot of people, although it is very distinctive.

    It also means less Japanese quirky styling. The Juke is one of those emotional niche vehicles that appeals to a few. I want something more like the Kia Soul. The Maxima has those weird headlights, the Rogue is all right but still a bit strange and doesn’t favor utility, the Sentra looks like it was purposely styled to be (too) different and thus limiting its appeal.

    The other thing I’d like to see is design that maximizes interior space, like the Versa did, even if it threatens to canabilize sales of existing products. If Nissan actually replaced it’s lineup with vehicles like that in the next two years, then it’s the other companies that will see their sales eaten into.

    Is a two year new product launch enough without something extra besides styling like Hyundai did going to work? Whew, good question. I think there’s already a lot of stylish competitor vehicles out there and there are a few major re-designs coming out soon as well. If their cars had come out just before Hyundai’s or Ford’s, they could have grabbed more market share. Now it seems they’re only keeping up with the pack.

    • 0 avatar
      Banger

      “I want something more like the Kia Soul.”

      May I introduce you to a Nissan Cube, then?

    • 0 avatar
      Banger

      It’s not that I think it *looks* like a Kia Soul, just that it competes in the same category with the Soul. It’s a subcompact, it’s boxy on the outside and roomy on the inside, and it doesn’t appeal to the same people that the jellybean-shaped subcompacts we’re accustomed to in America normally appeal to.

      The Cube is, in my opinion, orders of magnitude better than the Soul in terms of fit and finish, interior appointments, and (though time will have to bear this out to be sure), it’s probably better in terms of overall reliability. Mr. Karesh would be able to speak to that with his TrueDelta reliability reporting.

      Anyway, my point to Advo was, if you’re considering the Soul as something you want to see more of from Nissan, well, Nissan’s had the Cube all along, and it’s been around a darn sight longer than the Soul. In a lot of ways, the Soul tries to look like the Cube, not the other way around. The Cube, need I remind you, has been around since 1998 in Japan.

  • avatar
    Spike_in_Sydney

    I rent a lot of cars for short stays, always compact. (Read cheap) A list of recents would include Hyundai Getz and i30, Corolla and Yaris, Cruze and two Nissans – Tiida (Versa to you) and Micra. The winner by a big margin is the Micra. I don’t see a mention anywhere in these posts so maybe it’s not available Stateside but it is a surprisingly comfortable and competent little car.
    P.S. I always opt for a manual transmission.
    P.P.S. The Tiida is crap. Tinny and boring.

    • 0 avatar
      Rental Man

      Welocome to the USA. A very different market.
      No rental cars with manual tranny.
      No Nisaan Micra.
      No widespread Diesel cars.

      All small cars have the largest engine sold overseas as the base engine here.
      USA sales of all manual transmission combined less then 3%.
      Do we dream of Holden Monaro and Ford Falcons sport models? Some of us do.

  • avatar
    Detroit-X

    I’ve looked at Nissan on and off through the years–never bought one. (I rented one that had a defective radio/HVAC system–that was a nice touch.) I haven’t been in one lately, but when I have, Nissan’s just seem cheap/shoddy in materials, but the same price as everyone else. And that CVT? NO THANKS.

  • avatar
    Junebug

    Me and the wife had new car fever in the 90′s and traded cars alot, yeah, that was dumb and we have learned the painful lessens. But, my Nissan story – 94 Altima, 95 Maxima, 96 Quest, 98 Sentra, 99 Maxima, 00 Quest, 01 Maxima, 01 Frontier, 02 Pathfinder,and after all that. Here’s my thoughts, good cars, but you can’t sell them, no one will trade you worth a damn EXCEPT a Nissan dealer.

    • 0 avatar
      Rental Man

      You were trading nearly new cars. Also I always get more money for the car if i’m selling to a dealer that sells that brand. They will CPO it or just have more foot traffic from people looking for that brand and it is easier to flip them into a used one if they cannot afford the new payments and the used one still has the same bodystyle.

      BTW, How did you buy 2 Quests?

  • avatar
    mcarr

    I was a huge Nissan fanboy in the nineties. I couldn’t afford to own but a 1992 Sentra SE-R, but I LOVED that car and dreamed of one day having a Maxima, 300ZX, and a Pathfinder in my driveway. There is absolutely nothing in Nissan’s current lineup that I want. The CVT is a deal killer for me, and everything else that isn’t weird is just an appliance. If Nissan puts the Juke’s turbo mill in Versa (Versa SE-R? The Sentra is huge these days) with a MANUAL, that would definitely fire my interest. I can’t complain too much, it seems no car companies make the types of cars they use to. Appliances sell.

  • avatar
    zamoti

    I would like to join the chorus of voices singing the praise of an MT Maxima. As a current owner of a 2000 with 150k miles, I’m considering this car’s replacement. As others have mentioned the G37s sedan is an appealing choice, but I don’t feel compelled to purchase a luxury sedan. However, having recently been a passenger in a G37, I will say, the interior space is a bit smallish (as noted previously likely due to the RWD platform). The only reason I want a 4-door is because I have a family and while they typically ride in the primary kid-hauler, it seems like a good idea to have a second car that is possible of accommodating five butts if necessary.
    I get the feeling that in terms of market position the idea is that if you want an MT, get a G37, otherwise have a Maxima.
    Having only driven a 4-cyl Altima as a rental I can say I did not enjoy the CVT experience. It’s not about expectations of how I felt a transmission should feel, it’s about the experience of slow acceleration and a “zingy” power feeling when you finally did get moving. I’m driving the car, I would like to be the one making decisions about how it accelerates and a CVT does not give me that feeling; it feels like it will get up and go when it’s damn well ready and not a moment before!
    So MT for the Max again please (and in dreams as a station wagon).

    • 0 avatar
      Banger

      “Having only driven a 4-cyl Altima as a rental I can say I did not enjoy the CVT experience. It’s not about expectations of how I felt a transmission should feel, it’s about the experience of slow acceleration and a “zingy” power feeling when you finally did get moving. I’m driving the car, I would like to be the one making decisions about how it accelerates and a CVT does not give me that feeling; it feels like it will get up and go when it’s damn well ready and not a moment before!”

      The 2002-2006 Altima 2.5 with four-speed automatic transmission would do 0-60 in 8.6 seconds. The The 2007-present Altima 2.5 with CVT goes from 0-60 in….wait for it…8.6 seconds. As much as I hate to use Wikipedia as a source, it’s probably just about the easiest place for you to see this information back-to-back on a single page without me cluttering up this comment space with a bunch of long links, so here you go: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nissan_Altima

      So it *is* about how you think the transmission should feel. The acceleration isn’t any slower than the “regular” automatic transmission in the previous-gen Altima, and it’s on-par with other four-cylinder competitors in the segment:

      Camry: 0-60 in 8.4 seconds
      Fusion: 0-60 in 8.0 seconds
      Malibu: 0-60 in 8.8 seconds
      Sonata: 0-60 in 7.7 seconds (This is the sleeper of the segment, apparently.)

      Now, having said all that, give me a manual transmission any day. Especially in a Max. Mom had one when I was a kid, and that was one fast! (with an exclamation point!) car.

    • 0 avatar
      Wheatridger

      You (and I) want to hear the engine getting louder as it gains RPM. That mechanically expressive noise gives our ears an indication that we’re gaining speed, supplementing the visual evidence. It’s part of the fun, but it’s also a hidden safety factor. Without that aural feedback, it’s very easy to underestimate your rate of acceleration, and your actual speed. Insulated by droning CVTs, silent electric power plants, numb steering, and tiny windows, and distracted by in-dash video, I suppose we really will require the heads-up displays and automated traffic management schemes that we love to hate…

      • 0 avatar
        potatobreath

        Wheatridger, the Xtronic CVT does rev the engine if you put your foot down. That was a concession to make the transmission feel more natural for acceleration. It also kicks down fairly rapidly if you put your foot down.

        The only CVT I didn’t like was the one in the Caliber and Patriot. AFAIK a similar unit goes into the Mitsubishi Lancer, but Chrysler tuned theirs to kick down incredibly slowly. Chevrolet did the same with their six-speed auto in the Malibu.

      • 0 avatar
        Elorac

        Actually, doesn’t the CVT rev the engine when you put your foot does specifically to get to a higher power band, to enable faster acceleration?

    • 0 avatar
      Banger

      (I had made this comment earlier today, but it seems to have been lost to the nether worlds of the web. Or something’s screwy with my browser. Whatev. I’ll try again:)

      The four-cylinder Altima with the traditional four-speed autobox (the one you could buy from 2002-2006) went 0-60 in 7.4 seconds. Once the four-cylinder Altima got the CVT in 2007, it went 0-60 in (wait for it….) 7.5 seconds.

      So to me, it would appear it *is* in how you expect a transmission to feel. Compare the Altima to a few 2011 four-cylinder midsize sedans from the competition, and it shapes up favorably:

      Accord: 7.8 seconds
      Camry: 8.6 seconds
      Fusion: 7.9 seconds
      Malibu: 8.8 seconds
      Sonata: 8.0 seconds

      All the above numbers came from AOL Autos, because that was the easiest way I could find 0-60 times without having to read through an entire review. So sue me.

      That said, sign me up for more stick shifts. Especially in a Max. Mom had a manual trans Max of roughly 1987 vintage that was fast! with an exclamation point.

  • avatar
    jimboy

    What hurt Nissan the most was changing the brand’s name. My sister’s first car was a ’68 Datsun. A wonderful little car that my dad preferred over his ’69 Caprice. He said you pulled the car on like a pair of old shoes. I learned to drive a manual transmission on that car, which was totally forgiving of my ineptitude. I knew a lot of people who owned Datsuns at the time, but few of them made the switch to Nissan, mostly they went Honda.I don’t think Nissan ever recovered from the loss of brand recognition when they did the switch, but the Altima has made a huge difference for them. I see them everywhere her in Canada.

    • 0 avatar
      Rental Man

      You are dating yourself. Most younger people never heard of Datsun. Do people get hung up on mass market brand names? ask the Koreans that proved to all of us recently with great product you sell.

  • avatar
    Domestic Hearse

    More CVT complaints, especially in the Maxima. Any quick scan of the Nissan blogs and fan sites will inform you of a nagging and sometimes fatal flaw in the Maxima’s CVT. Just about every single one, in year 3-4, or around 40-50,000 miles, develop problems.

    Then, like clockwork, my neighbor informed me his 3 year old Maxima’s CVT went on the fritz, the fix was expensive, he learned it was well-known in the Nissan community, and he was done. A week later, he had a new Hyundai in the driveway.

    Mr Reuter, fix this.

    And your Titan, update it or drop it, or evolve it quickly into your NV lineup with an HD option and start marketing it to the commercial crowd, complete with a commercial program/specialists in select dealerships (just like how Ford and Chevy/GMC do it).

    The Juke. It’s face is on upside down.

    The Z. It’s fat. And not particularly fun to drive.

    The GTR. Hellz yeah. Start spreading some of its fairy dust upon your entire lineup.

    Altima wagon please. And not some sort of CrossPuke wagons like what Toyota and Honda have created out of their Camry and Accord, respectively.

    Manual transmission options please. Until and when your CVTs no longer suck or break.

    Xterra. It’s become a weak-sister Pathfinder. Butch it up. Get back to barebones toughness. See FJ Cruiser. Or Wrangler Unlimited. Give the vehicle its balls back and re-name it X-Patrol in the U.S.

    • 0 avatar
      vbofw

      “Just about every single one, in year 3-4, or around 40-50,000 miles, develop problems.”

      If that were true it would be much bigger news than simply on the fanboi blogs.

      • 0 avatar
        psarhjinian

        This is a really good point.

        Nissan’s ostensibly-horrible CVT utterly fails to make an appearance in Consumer Reports’ rankings, or those of other more-or-less objective reviewers.

        Do you want to know what epidemic transmission problems look like from Consumer Reports’ perspective? Check any V6 Honda or Chrysler from 99-04. Nissan’s performance looks nothing like that.

        I’ve driven CVT-equipped Nissans. They’re not whiny, the V6 ones aren’t slow, and the transmission generally works much better than six-gear automatics that tend to hunt a lot, or DSGs (which have reliability problems, by the way!) that are a bit rough.

        I really get the impression that the CVT hate has more to do with enthusiasts being luddites** than it does with any objective qualifications of performance or reliability.

        ** and many CVTs, initially, being attached to pretty gutless cars that would have equally gutless with an AT, MT or DSG.

      • 0 avatar
        Banger

        Good post, psar. My thoughts exactly. We worried about the Cube’s CVT after reading a couple horror stories online about it, but they offered a 100,000-mile warranty on 2010 models, which was good enough for us. We keep the Cube serviced like it’s supposed to be (every 3,750 miles like clockwork) and have experienced no trouble. We will also be getting the CVT serviced at 30,000-mile intervals, as per the “premium service” recommendations in the Cube maintenance guide, rather than waiting the 100,000 miles that some dealers apparently recommend. Funny how those same dealers would probably refuse to honor the 100,000-mile CVT warranty if, say, your CVT blew up at 90,000 miles and you’d never had it serviced per the maintenance recommendation in the book.

        Still, an M/T Maxima would be more fun than the law should allow!

  • avatar
    tankinbeans

    My friend recently bought an ’08 Sentra with the CVT and 80k. I’m hoping he doesn’t have to make much use of the extended warranty that he bought with it. He says it’s a pretty fun little bugger that gets 30+ mpg combined, then again he came out of a 2005 Accent (not down on Hyundai – I like them – just providing reference).

  • avatar
    jabetz

    I know the Xterra was available in S Americas with a diesel. Are there any plans to make it available in the US?

  • avatar
    Robbie

    Key to this discussion should be that Nissan is a brand that spends a very limited amount of money on research and focuses largely on third world markets.

    In the long run, their relative strength in the US therefore depends on technological developments and consumer taste for cutting edge technology. I have heard claims that technological innovation in the US car market will be less important now than in the 10-20 years past, which suggests Nissan may fare well.


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