By on July 11, 2017

2016 Nissan Versa Sedan - Image: NissanAmerica’s historic subcompact car segment leader, the Nissan Versa, suffered a sharp 22-percent U.S. sales decline in the first half of 2017.

In fact, total Versa sales plunged 45 percent in June 2017. The Versa remained America’s top-selling subcompact nameplate, and by a wide margin. Even in June, when Versa sales plunged by more than 6,500 units, Nissan still owned nearly a quarter of America’s subcompact market.

Nevertheless, it’s odd to see the segment leader, a car that was selling better than ever at this time last year, suddenly dropping like a stone, declining even more rapidly than the segment as a whole.

But after years of using the Nissan Versa as a tool for turning used car buyers into new car buyers, Nissan USA is scaling back factory support for the Versa in lieu of assisting Nissan dealers with their certified pre-owned efforts.2016 Nissan Versa Note - Image: NissanThe basic 2017 Nissan Versa S sedan is priced from $12,875. According to Kelley Blue Book, the average transaction price in June in the subcompact category was $16,401, almost exactly the price of the basic Versa Note, the $16,365 S Plus.

As years of hefty leasing comes back to bite automakers with excessive pre-owned lease return inventory, causing an eventual drag on new vehicle sales volume, a strong certified pre-owned program is essential for dealers to capitalize on the industry’s increased used car competition.

Subcompact June 2017 June 2016 % Change 2017 YTD 2016 YTD % Change
Nissan Versa 8,155 14,683 -44.5% 56,558 72,461 -21.9%
Hyundai Accent 5,028 3,139 60.2% 32,515 39,330 -17.3%
Honda Fit 4,444 5,034 -11.7% 26,322 27,385 -3.9%
Toyota Yaris 3,708 4,239 -12.5% 25,604 23,011 11.3%
Ford Fiesta 4,026 4,064 -0.9% 24,580 25,539 -3.8%
Chevrolet Sonic 6,550 7,583 -13.6% 17,958 28,292 -36.5%
Toyota Prius C 867 1,355 -36.0% 7,049 11,573 -39.1%
Kia Rio 963 5,238 -81.6% 6,685 15,368 -56.5%
Total 33,741 45,335 -25.6% 197,271 242,959 -18.8%

Selling those pre-owned Altimas and Sentras, however, isn’t easy if a hugely affordable new car is sitting in the other corner of the lot. For the customer, a similarly priced new car, with its roomy rear seat and efficient engine and built-in warranty, is an enticing proposition when the prices are extremely low. For the dealer, however, that old car may not maintain the same level of profit as the new car.

Evidently, Versa sales were increasingly elevated to record levels in part by Nissan support: incentives to customers and/or bonuses to dealers, marketing dollars, a uniquely low MSRP. Nissan’s vice president for U.S. sales said the Versa’s severe drop comes after an “intentional move” on Nissan’s part to “back away from the Versa segment,” Automotive News reports.NIssan Nalley Atlanta dealer - Image: NissanWith less emphasis on one of the least expensive cars in America, however, Nissan can install greater support for comparably priced or even somewhat more expensive used cars. As a result, dealers will be more attracted to Nissan’s CPO program, which typically enables dealers to charge more for a used car. Millennials, for instance, are apparently willing to spend $3,800 more on a certified pre-owned car than an equivalent, non-certified example.

Nissan won’t soon give up on the Versa from a new car perspective, of course. Nearly three out of every 10 subcompact buyers in America chooses a Versa, roughly the total produced by its two closest competitors combined. But if the Versa is Nissan’s tool for igniting interest in the brand among younger first-time buyers, an Autotrader study suggests CPO vehicles are powerful tools for doing the same. 69 percent of CPO buyers are likely to return to the dealer for their next automobile purchase.

In 2016, Toyota was the CPO giant, earning 20 percent market share with more than 500,000 CPO sales. Market-wide, certified pre-owned sales reached record highs in each of the last five years and are likely to top 2016’s record in 2017.

[Images: Nissan]

Timothy Cain is a contributing analyst at The Truth About Cars and and the founder and former editor of Follow on Twitter @timcaincars.

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13 Comments on “Nissan Versa Sales Plunge Because Nissan Wants to Help Dealers Sell Certified Pre-Owned Vehicles...”

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    I like that metallic teal.

    It makes sense that dealers would tilt their emphasis toward CPOs, now that they have a decent supply available.

  • avatar

    It’s all about the used car market collapse. If used prices keep falling the residuals won’t work for cheap leasing. It also makes it less likely for car owners to trade towards new cars. And as a third strike it makes used cars a better deal then new again.

    In order to prevent this they are doing last ditch efforts to prop up used car pricing at any cost. There was an article the other day saying that the OEMS were paying the auction houses to move cars to other parts of the country were used values are higher in order to maintain that residual. All this may help but I still think used prices are going to keep coming down for a while.

    • 0 avatar
      Secret Hi5

      Sudden there is a used car GLUT? I thought it was a shortage and that’s why used cars prices are thought to be high.

      • 0 avatar

        It’s just starting now prices have started trending down over the past 6 months due to huge amounts of lease returns coming in.

        From NADA market services

        “As a result of the used market’s performance, J.D.
        Power Valuation Services’ seasonally adjusted used
        vehicle price index fell for the 10th straight month. In
        April, the index slipped 0.4% to 109.9, a figure 7.1%
        below April 2016 (118.3), marking the index’s lowest
        level since September 2010.
        At the segment level, mainstream losses were led by
        small cars. Subcompact and compact car wholesale
        prices each fell by around 2.5%, which was about a
        half-point worse than the pair’s previous 3-year
        average of 1.9%. April’s result wiped out most of the
        3.1% increase in prices the two segments gained in

        Full info here

        It depends on the car pickups and SUVs are doing OK used compact and midsize car values are tanking 2-3% a month.

  • avatar

    Surprised by this… a manufacturer putting its dealers’ bottom line ahead of its own. Though I suppose if the Sentra is more profitable and not much more expensive it’s a win win for everyone. I can’t imagine how anyone makes money selling a $12K car in the US. Only a zombie company like Mitsubishi would do it.

    • 0 avatar

      I’d imagine the margins on the base Versa are slim, but oh my Jesus is that thing de-contented. It’s not just lack of equipment – the thing transcends chintzy as we know it.

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    I wouldn’t buy a Versa. I wouldn’t buy most new Nissans either. Short of the Maxima and Murano, nearly everything they make feels utterly disposable after 20K miles.

    That said, this makes sense. The profit margins on a CPO car are definitely higher for the dealer, and I suspect they’re higher for Nissan as well, for the fee they charge to call it a CPO.

  • avatar

    “Selling those pre-owned Altimas and Sentras, however, isn’t easy if a hugely affordable new car is sitting in the other corner of the lot.”

    If the customer actually drives a Versa and a used Sentra back to back, it gets a lot easier. Versas suck. A Sentra would probably feel like an Infiniti by comparison.

  • avatar

    I like the Note hatchback version, but the Versa Sedan is a turd on wheels. Horrible styling. Awful interior. Ugh.

  • avatar

    I know Toyota breaks it out, can we have a breakout of the Yaris (Toyota) and the Yaris (Scion rebadged Mazda2)

  • avatar

    As others have already said, a used yet more substantial car is a much better buy over a new Versa even if it is a miserable Sentra or a mediocre Altima. It’d be even better to steer clear of Nissans altogether.

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