Nissan's Sedan Optimism Comes at an Interesting Time

Tim Healey
by Tim Healey

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.

Tim Healey
Tim Healey

Tim Healey grew up around the auto-parts business and has always had a love for cars — his parents joke his first word was “‘Vette”. Despite this, he wanted to pursue a career in sports writing but he ended up falling semi-accidentally into the automotive-journalism industry, first at Consumer Guide Automotive and later at Web2Carz.com. He also worked as an industry analyst at Mintel Group and freelanced for About.com, CarFax, Vehix.com, High Gear Media, Torque News, FutureCar.com, Cars.com, among others, and of course Vertical Scope sites such as AutoGuide.com, Off-Road.com, and HybridCars.com. He’s an urbanite and as such, doesn’t need a daily driver, but if he had one, it would be compact, sporty, and have a manual transmission.

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  • 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.

  • ToolGuy Friendly reminder of two indisputable facts: A) Winners buy new vehicles (only losers buy used), and B) New vehicle buyers are geniuses (their vehicle choices prove it):
  • Groza George Stellantis live off the back of cheap V8 cars with old technology and suffers from lack of new product development. Now that regulations killed this market, they have to ditch the outdated overhead.They are not ready to face the tsunami of cheap Chinese EVs or ready to even go hybrid and will be left in the dust. I expect most of their US offerings to be made in Mexico in the future for good tariff protection and lower costs of labor instead of overpriced and inflexible union labor.
  • MaintenanceCosts This is delaying an oil change for my Highlander by a couple of weeks, as it prevented me from getting an appointment before a business trip out of town. Oh well, much worse things have happened.I also just got a dealership oil change for my BMW (thanks, loss-leader prepaid plans!) and this didn't seem to affect them at all.
  • Kwik_Shift_Pro4X Gonna need more EV fuel.
  • Lou_BC There's a company in BC that has kits for logging trucks and pickups. They have "turn key" logging trucks too. What they market is similar to what Ram wants to sell. The rig runs on batteries and a generator kicks in when depleted. On the West Coast logging in the mountains they found that the trucks run mostly on regen braking. The generator doesn't kick in much. Going up mountain, the truck is empty.
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