By on September 17, 2018

Image: Nissan

In the lead-up to the current-generation Toyota Camry’s launch in late summer, 2017, company brass predicted this model would change things. This Camry, in addition to the new-for-2018 Honda Accord and redesigned 2019 Nissan Altima, would arrest the segment’s downward plunge, said Jack Hollis, Toyota’s U.S. VP of marketing. He predicted a sales increase in 2018.

Well, while the Camry is more than likely drawing more buyers from a shrinking pool, the segment has not grown in 2018. The sales surge that followed the 2018 Camry’s release didn’t last, with the model posting declining year-to-date sales starting in July.

It seems there’s a severe lack of optimism in the segment, and with good reason. But Nissan North America chairman Denis Le Vot isn’t having any of it. The decline stops riiiiight now, he predicts.

The traditional-minded among us would like to believe that. Not everything needs to be a crossover, this disillusioned crowd cries, and not everyone has 1.5 kids and a dog and a paddleboard to cart around. Still, there’s no getting away from the fact that only 30.6 percent of vehicles sold in the U.S. in August were passenger cars. One in six new vehicles is a mainstream compact crossover, data shows.

Speaking to Automotive News, Le Vot’s rose-colored glasses shone brightly. The 2019 Altima sedan and its available variable-compression four-cylinder engine is apparently the spark needed to lure a younger crop of buyers away from crossovers.

It’s not entirely groundless optimism.

2019 Nissan Altima

“We think 30 percent is the bottom,” he told Automotive News. “Market intelligence is telling us that Generation Z’s favorite body style is sedans. The big wheel is turning.”

 Of course, there’s a big difference between liking something and buying it, though if this overall preference translates into purchasing decisions, Nissan (and other automakers) might get their wish. That’s assuming enough members of this young demographic find decent (but not too decent) jobs while remaining free of marriage and pregnancy.

Generation Z emcompasses those born from the mid-1990s to the early 2000s. They don’t remember 9/11, or if they do, it’s as hazy as my memories of the Challenger explosion. Currently, much automotive marketing targets Millennials — an older group with considerably greater buying power. It seems the lion’s share of Millennial marketing (most of which is atrocious), pegs the consumer as a urban professional with a taste for adventure, a close-knit group of trendy, urban professional friends, and a thirst for semi-rugged recreational activities. We’re talking kayaking, rock-climbing, hiking, and other things that take place outside the city.

Crossover marketing and Millennial marketing overlap like two lovers.

Le Vot said Nissan plans to revamp all of its “core sedans” by 2020, part of a product offensive that includes light truck models. On the Generation Z front, Le Vot believes that higher interest rates will sway price-savvy, income-challenged youngsters away from costlier crossover market and into sedans. Added technology should help broaden the appeal, he claims.

For 2019, the Altima adopts all-wheel drive for the first time, as well as the aforementioned trick engine and a suite of driver’s aids. It shows up at dealers this fall. Over the first eight months of 2018, Altima sales declined 15.6 percent, with last year’s volume showing a 23.5 percent drop from 2015 figures.

[Images: Nissan]

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29 Comments on “Another Sedan ‘Savior’? The Optimism Pouring From Nissan’s U.S. Chairman Is Bittersweet...”

  • avatar

    Urbanization alone is bad news for these big sedans. Lopping off 15-20″ from these things can be the difference between life or death in the big city parallel parking game

    • 0 avatar

      You’re right. Due to this urbanization, Escalade sales have fallen off a cliff and are only purchased by people who live on farms.

    • 0 avatar

      I agree Sporty, yet bumpers -key to bad parallel parking- seem to have stopped existing.

    • 0 avatar

      I think this largely explains why the Crosstrek, HR-V, etc. are ENORMOUSLY popular here in downtown Philly. Lots of room if you need to haul stuff, and easy to park. The Forester is relatively short too, and might be the most popular of all. I plan to get one next year. And hey, the ground clearance isn’t so bad during prime pothole season either.

  • avatar

    I don’t think high interest rates on costlier crossovers will do it. True, interest rates are going up, but anyone shopping for a new car typically has some pretty darn good deals through captive finance arms. Its only really an issue if you plan to finance for more than 5 years and then, yes, interest rates aren’t as palatable.

    If anything, I would say the new housing market bubble would have more to do with getting squeezed into less expensive cars. There interest rates are going back to historical levels and housing has never been more expensive in most markets.

    I also think being inundated with crossovers will ultimately drive the price down to more sedan-like levels. There will eventually be a glut of models on the market and new dealer stock filling up overflow lots. So yeah, it will take another economic downturn, oil crisis or maybe trade war to changes attitudes. You gotta believe one or more of those is coming in the next decade.

  • avatar
    87 Morgan

    The fine folks at Nissan always make me chuckle. When I worked for a Nissan store in 01′ or so, I recall discussing the Xterra with the Nissan rep. He was certain the young college kids were going to love it, I assured him they would too, in 10 years or so when they can afford it….Same with the this generation Z nonsense. So your telling me todays 18 year olds like sedans? Well super for them. There are still plenty of 10 year old or older Maximas, Camry, Etal available which is barely what they can afford.

    Why on earth would any manufacturer make a car with the latest generation in mind? Market to those that have money to spend, or more likely a credit profile that makes them reasonably attractive to a captive, bank or credit union.

    • 0 avatar

      @87 Morgan

      If they marketed to those with money, they’d be marketing to a bunch of old folks, something not even Buick wants to do. As the saying goes, you can sell a young person’s car to an old person, but not vice-versa. So while Gen Z may not actually buy much, they’ll set the trends that the older folks with the money will follow.

      • 0 avatar

        “So while Gen Z may not actually buy much, they’ll set the trends that the older folks with the money will follow.”

        This seems so completely absurd, it must be true according to automotive marketing. I would like to see this model applied to home buying. Instead of Gen Z they should market to toddlers. Then we can all buy colorful plastic houses full of hamsters and juice boxes.

        I think what seems to appeal to any upcoming generation is the opposite of what they grew up with. Grow up in the back of a station wagon, get a minivan. Grow up in the back of a minivan, get an SUV. Grow up in the back of of an SUV, get a CUV. I’m not sure what is next; if the sedan has been there all along, maybe the final form is to have a lifted sedan such like the MB GLE 450 or BMW X6. The only thing I’m sure is that it won’t go full circle back to traditional wagons.

        • 0 avatar

          Oh well, no station wagons for sure. The next thing will be self-driving blobs in any form. And next after that – it will be flying blobs. At some point there will be no humans as we know them. I had the vision: AI creatures of future (human replacement) will travel across space-time by applying 4D printing and at some point faster than speed of light. Because Ansible will make it possible to send information faster than speed of light. Instantaneously as a fact.

    • 0 avatar

      This is also not helped by the widening rift of generational rancor. Manufacturers may do well to point out how much their vehicles are hated by the young.

  • avatar

    The rear styling is actually quite handsome IMO, although I hate nissan’s fat rear C-pillars since they ruined the Maxima in ’04. The weird variable compression engine sounds like a disaster waiting to happen. Adopting CVTs across the line was the first nail in the coffin for any sort of enthusiast appeal, and now the loss of the VQ in the Altima puts it even further into irrelevance (from the perspective of it being a desirable and engaging car). No matter, as long as they keep financing requirements at “can fog a mirror” they’ll keep selling. Had Nissan used a conventional 6spd auto coupled to the VQ35, I would actually be quite intrigued in a cheap lightly used Altima that hearkened back to the days of the V6 midsize sedan horsepower wars of the late 90s-early 2000s.

  • avatar

    Granted I haven’t had a car loan in a while, but where are these higher interest rates everyone’s talking about? A quick Google search and I see rates as low as 3% with good credit from Lightstream. And plenty of ads on TV for 0.9% or 1.9% financing from captives.

    • 0 avatar

      Well the 0% and other captive finance rates are subsidized by the mfg and are usually available instead of a rebate and that has been the case for a long time.

      3% while relatively low, historically speaking does represent an increase as it was not that long ago that you could get 2%, un-subsidized and of course with a good credit score.

  • avatar

    Less competition, higher transaction prices. What’s not to like?

  • avatar

    Generation Z, you’re our only hope!

  • avatar

    Ah, but did you correct the deficiencies Mr. Le Vot? Looks as if you have not.

  • avatar

    ““Market intelligence is telling us that Generation Z’s favorite body style is sedans. The big wheel is turning.””

    Oh ye gods please be true.

  • avatar

    Lots of rental fleets to fill with the help of FCA. Altma is in a 3 way tie for worst rental car that I have ever had the displeasure of driving. Tied with Sebring and a 2010 300 v6.

    • 0 avatar

      We had a rental Altima two years ago. My wife still talks about how bad that car was, and we drive old cars.

      When her car was in the bodyshop after getting rear ended, she was worried that she would get stuck with another Altima. She insisted that she be given something else and got a Legacy. Now she talks about eventually replacing her CR-V with a Legacy.

    • 0 avatar

      Journey and Caravan aside, FCA has significantly cut back on fleet sales. Indeed, they accounted for just 15% of the company’s North American sales in August.

      There’s an Avis lot on the upper floors of my downtown Boston parking garage, and it’s stocked almost exclusively with Nissans and Hyundais these days.

    • 0 avatar

      We have a ’13 Rogue and it has convinced me I don’t want another Nissan product. We overpaid so that doesn’t help with the impression. (It was given to us but the title and license fee was more that I would pay for a car like that. No tax since it was a family transaction!).

  • avatar

    I think one can say cars have never been better in terms of reliability and features. They’re also more expensive than they’ve ever been and offer a less compelling driving experience than ever. I just don’t see myself ever driving a brand new car ever. Even the cheap ones are $30K. I’d much rather find something 15-years old with a bit of character, far less technology and that I can actually buy.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m on the same brainwave Lightspeed. I suppose we’ll relent and buy a new-ish minivan in the 20-25k range in the not-too-distant future, but even then part of me would rather hunt down a clean older Sienna for $6k, baseline it with some maintenance and call it good. The older ones are genuinely better put together and nicer places to spend time in inside. The increased safety of the newer ones cannot be denied however, and will probably be the ultimate factor that drives us towards a newer model.

      As far as being more expensive, I’ll point to Camry LEs now being $18k OTD fodder versus the 90s when a 4cyl base car went for an inflation adjusted $30k.

      As for things I actually enjoy and genuinely find compelling, there is precious little on the market place now that doesn’t reek of cost cutting and compromises in one way or another. Terrible seat cloth, poor sightlines, CVTs, lifeless electric power steering, atrocious styling, MPG-optimized throttle response and transmission shifting, “sound tubes” and fake engine noises, etc.

    • 0 avatar

      Cars are cheaper than they’ve ever been after inflation.

  • avatar

    That’s the spirit Nissan! I like the way it looks though, like my ’15 Accord Sport, it is probably 10″ longer than it really needs to be.

    • 0 avatar

      Thankfully for you, Honda makes the equally roomy and fast Civic.

      Your post has me thinking. Manufacturers are probably making a mistake focusing on midsizers. The real hope and volume going forward is in compacts, which Nissan seems almost keen on neglecting. They are cheaper to make, and by virtue of their lighter weight and shorter wheelbases are inherently more fun to drive. Well, except for the Sentra, which is flat out miserable.

  • avatar

    It’s just another boring car, just like any Camry or Accord, I know because I rented many Camrys over the years including 2 Altimas, I am also driving my (leased) second Accord that is a vary good car but defiantly not exciting, I can tell you what excites me, An MX-5, a Mustang GT, even an F-150 Raptor can go on this list, not an Altima, 95% of Altima buyers are doing it because it’s cheap!

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