Nissan's Sedan Optimism Comes at an Interesting Time

Tim Healey
by Tim Healey
nissan s sedan optimism comes at an interesting time

Just the other day, Steph wrote about Nissan executive Denis Le Vot’s optimism that sedans will rebound from the current doldrums. Only 30 percent of U.S. vehicle sales in August were passenger cars.

Le Vot cited market research suggesting Generation Z loves the body style, as well as interest rate growth that could drive younger buyers towards sedans, as opposed to pricier crossovers.

The Nissan North America chairman mentioned a revamp of Nissan’s “core sedans” by 2020. The first step in that direction involves the venerable Altima, the next generation of which was unveiled in New York earlier this year, adding all-wheel drive, a new available engine, and new tech.

I know, you’re shaking your head right now. Didn’t you just read about this on Monday? Well, there’s an additional aspect to the story – the timing of Le Vot’s quotes.

We mentioned it in our post, but it bears repeating: the Altima goes on sale this fall, with its arrival at dealers just weeks away. In fact, after I write this post, I am going to pack a bag. I’ll be hopping on a couple airplanes on Wednesday in order to drive the new Altima.

Le Vot’s quotes came at an event meant to show off the next Altima, with the first drive for journalists coming a week after he spoke. No coincidence, that – it doesn’t matter whether Le Vot brought up the issue himself or was quizzed by attending media. Even if Le Vot didn’t bring up the topic, he had to know the questions were coming.

I know I’m being Captain Obvious here, but this isn’t the first time I’ve encountered an OEM talking up the future of the sedan market RIGHT BEFORE it launched a key competitor in the segment.

The last time it happened, I wrote about it.

This isn’t to pick on Nissan or Honda. It’s understandable from a business perspective – if you put a positive spin on the segment, it makes it more attractive to buyers. The execs may even believe the hype – I’m not saying Nissan’s research isn’t accurate or wasn’t conducted in good faith.

So, Nissan’s research may be on point, and it’s not shocking Le Vot would interpret it in the most favorable way possible, considering the Altima’s importance to Nissan and the fact it goes on sale soon.

But as we already noted, it doesn’t make him (or other execs and analysts who predict a sedan recovery) right. At worst, it’s spin designed to drum up sales, and at best it’s an educated guess that could easily turn out to be wrong.

I write this because one must be somewhat skeptical about OEM pronouncements about any segment, not just one that’s down in the dumps, especially when an OEM is poised to launch something new. That’s not to say any and all OEM pronouncements are bullshit, just that context must be considered.

Le Vot may be a true believer, and as a sedan fan I hope he’s right. But there’s always the chance he’s fallen into the trap of wishful thinking.

We all do it. We are a species that mixes logic and reason with emotion, and it’s understandable that if we want a positive outcome, and there’s reliable data that suggest we might get that outcome, that we’re going to seize upon it and ignore the fact that other, less favorable outcomes remain possible. Aside from any personal pro-sedan bias he may or may not have, Le Vot has an obvious stake in sedan success. And as a public “face” for the brand, he is trying to use the media to get the message across.

That message: “Sedan sales have hit bottom, they’re going to go back up, and oh by the way, we’re launching a new Altima right, just as we think the market will turn. Don’t get stuck in a crossover three years from now when all the cool kids are back in sedans. Would you like to test drive that Altima I just mentioned?”

It’s not just the message, though. Again, it’s the timing.

Only time will tell if Le Vot is correct, and only a test drive or two will tell if the Altima and its variable compression four-cylinder are any good. In the meantime, the rest is just conjecture. Words matter, but talk is often, as we know, cheap. The rest of the story isn’t yet told, and any OEMs’ attempts to write it are premature.

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2 of 18 comments
  • Whatnext Whatnext on Sep 19, 2018

    I see the new Altima comes with every automaker's recipe for sedan failure: a stupidly fast roofline and a tiny trunk opening. When will they learn?

  • HaveNissanWillTravel HaveNissanWillTravel on Sep 19, 2018

    When the ‘19 Alty arrives at my local dealer I’ll be one of first to pick one up.

  • FreedMike This article fails to mention that Toyota is also investing heavily in solid state battery tech - which would solve a lot of inherent EV problems - and plans to deploy it soon. course, Toyota being Toyota, it will use the tech in hybrids first, which is smart - that will give them the chance to iron out the wrinkles, so to speak. But having said that, I’m with Toyota here - I’m not sold on an all EV future happening anytime soon. But clearly the market share for these vehicles has nowhere to go but up; how far up depends mainly on charging availability. And whether Toyota’s competitors are all in is debatable. Plenty of bet-hedging is going on among makers in the North American market.
  • Jeff S I am not against EVs but I completely understand Toyota's position. As for Greenpeace putting Toyota at the bottom of their environmental list is more drama. A good hybrid uses less gas, is cleaner than most other ICE, and is more affordable than most EVs. Prius has proven longevity and low maintenance cost. Having had a hybrid Maverick since April and averaging 40 to 50 mpg in city driving it has been smooth driving and very economical. Ford also has very good hybrids and some of the earlier Escapes are still going strong at 300k miles. The only thing I would have liked in my hybrid Maverick would be a plug in but it didn't come with it. If Toyota made a plug in hybrid compact pickup like the Maverick it would sell well. I would consider an EV in the future but price, battery technology, and infrastructure has to advance and improve. I don't buy a vehicle based on the recommendation of Greenpeace, as a status symbol, or peer pressure. I buy a vehicle on what best needs my needs and that I actually like.
  • Mobes Kind of a weird thing that probably only bothers me, but when you see someone driving a car with ball joints clearly about to fail. I really don't want to be around a car with massive negative camber that's not intentional.
  • Jeff S How reliable are Audi? Seems the Mazda, CRV, and Rav4 in the higher trim would not only be a better value but would be more reliable in the long term. Interior wise and the overall package the Mazda would be the best choice.
  • Pickles69 They have a point. All things (or engines/propulsion) to all people. Yet, when the analogy of being, “a department store,” of options is used, I shudder. Department stores are failing faster than any other retail. Just something to chew on.