By on September 19, 2018

2019 Nissan Altima

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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18 Comments on “Nissan’s Sedan Optimism Comes at an Interesting Time...”


  • avatar
    RHD

    As other manufacturers abandon the market segment, Nissan fills the gap with a new and improved Altima.
    If it’s any good, it should do quite well.

    SUVs and CUVs are the pumpkin spice of the automotive world. It seems like everyone wants it, so we’re inundated with every possible iteration imaginable, and after a while we’re entirely sick of it and wish it would just go away forever.

    • 0 avatar
      slavuta

      All they have to do is to weld a hatch to that Altima, spike it up an inch and give it some plastic cladding; the AWD is already there. will cost them another grand per pop but now they can sell it more and cut down on incentives. pew…

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    Well the coupe, the convertible, the station wagon have all survived – all be it in much more limited numbers. Even if the species of “sedanicus” were to disappear from the market the IDEA will still exist and can be revived. I hope those manufacturers who are designing hatchbacks that look like sedans (KIA, AUDI, BUICK) show us a possible way forward to greater utility combined with sedan ride height and profile.

  • avatar
    MerlinV12

    Coupes and convertibles will make a rebound once younger buyers start associating Crossovers/SUVs with middle aged unhip muffin top Walmart shoppers. Much like tribal tattoos. At some point there will be a collective realization that most of these crossovers are just minivans with big tires and cowboy names.

    • 0 avatar
      Verbal

      Well said. Just like body art, CUVs/SUVs will move up the age demographic. Younger people will reject these affectations as they break away from the mainstream and establish their identities. It doesn’t necessarily mean that passenger cars will come back into vogue. But surely people will move away from CUVs/SUVs into something else, in the same way that full-size wagons and minivans waxed and waned.

      To paraphrase Yogi Berra, “No one buys those anymore. They’re too popular.”

    • 0 avatar
      sportyaccordy

      Younger buyers don’t have the buying power to move the needle on new car purchases. They are taking whatever is available in the used market. Many like crossovers as well; most of the ones I know who can afford new cars have crossovers.

  • avatar
    deanst

    I’m not sure why this warrants a post (“SALESMAN EXPECTS PRODUCT TO SELL”), but if anything it is intended for other manufacturers. Nissan is signalling that it intents to put the time and resources into their sedan offerings. For firms that haven’t yet committed or exited this area (Mazda, Subaru, Kia, Hyundai), he’s raising the stakes and giving them reason to leave if they are not as optimistic about the segment.

    • 0 avatar
      Tim Healey

      Because I am the boss and I said so?

      Kidding. No, the real reason I posted is just a friendly reminder to be extra skeptical of OEM pump-up speak right before a major product launch.

  • avatar
    Steve Biro

    I understand Tim’s point. But consider it this way: Nissan is putting its money where its mouth is. It says the sedan market will come back – and then introduces an updated version of said sedan. Auto manufacturers are loath to throw money away. If they’re unveiling a new Altima, clearly Nissan believes that it’s worth the time, effort and money.

  • avatar

    They count on getting many former Fusion and 300 owners.

  • avatar
    slavuta

    Only problem, it looks too much line Sonata

    • 0 avatar
      Peter Gazis

      akear

      Chrysler quit building the 200 2 years ago. It’s largest customers (Hertz, Enterprise & Avis) have already moved past Nissan & Hyundai. Now their giving Toyota & KIA a try.

      Ford hasn’t said when they will end Fusion production. My guess is it will be replaced by a new larger Mustang.

  • avatar
    gtem

    Can’t wait to see 7 year old altimas litter junkyards for crapped out variable displacement engines now, just when I thought they were out of the woods with their CVT issues. Thankfully the base 2.5NA motor is a pretty straightforward and sturdy unit, if not the most refined sounding mill in the segment, I think they may even stick with port injection on it (!)

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      Also note that AWD is only availible with the base 2.5 – I guess this makes the Altima a kind of low flying Rogue.

      • 0 avatar
        gtem

        On a related note, I had a 40k mile rental Altima to drive to NYC last month, I had to also take a quick trip out to the sticks by my parents’ place so I got to drive some really fun and twisty backroads that were in the process of being repaved (scraped off old pavement and gravel). I’d say the Altima acquitted itself really well, nothing short of extremely competent IMO. That’s not to say that it shines in the current class of midsizers, more so commentary on just how good even the “bottom” of the class has gotten. We also got an easy 39-40mpg with 3 people plus luggage on the drive out.

        I can see AWD Altimas being popular in my parents’ part of Central NY (Ithaca, Syracuse, etc). Anything affordable and AWD sells well there (Subies, compact crossovers, Outlander Sport, Patriots).

  • avatar
    SixspeedSi

    I’m sure they will sell fine..someone needs to sell “Fullsize” sedans to Enterprise.

    It will be interesting to see if the Crossover craze will eventually be seen like a wagon or van. Too mom/family looking for younger buys, moving them back to sedans/coupes/etc. I’m not sure about that and don’t think it’s something we will see for several years down the road.

    I do give credit for giving the new Altima awd. Seems like a good majority of CUV owners “need” awd and this is a good way to deliver it at a cheaper price.

  • avatar
    Whatnext

    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?

  • avatar
    HaveNissanWillTravel

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

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