By on January 3, 2020

2019 Nissan Altima

It was an all-around bad year for Nissan, both globally and in the United States. Turmoil and triage was the order of the day, as the automaker was rocked by the arrest and ouster of its former chairman, an escape artist known as Carlos Ghosn, as well as bad blood and intrigue among members of the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance.

Cooling auto sales in most developed markets further hurt the brand’s profitability, even as the automaker strove to reverse its incentive-fueled market share push in favor of a sustainable path forward. That path is proving rocky, despite Nissan’s willingness to stay the course.

The brand’s 2019 U.S. sales are horrendous.

Horrendous, but expected. As the automaker seeks to firm up its financial footing via reduced incentive spending and fleet sales (reduced expenditures on almost everything are the norm now), Nissan Group volume fell 29.5 percent in December, year over year. Through all of 2019, the automaker’s sales declined 9.9 percent.

Regardless of brand, December was not a month to remember at the automaker. Sales of Nissan-brand vehicles fell 28.4 percent last month, with the Infiniti badge dropping 37.8 percent. Through all twelve months of last year, Nissan declined 8.7 percent, with Infiniti faring far worse with a 21.1 percent drop.

It’s no wonder the automaker announced a brief January furlough of its U.S. employees, with reports claiming the company ordered an immediate cancellation of non-essential travel and expenditures.

The Nissan division’s 1,227,973 U.S. sales last year ranks lower than any of the previous five years. 2017 was the brand’s high water mark in the country. Infiniti moved 117,708 vehicles — just a handful of units ahead of its 2014 tally, and well behind its annual volume from 2003 to 2007.

At the same time, Nissan went on a product tear in 2019, introducing a refreshed (and pared-down) line of Titan and Titan XD pickups, a new Sentra compact, and a new Versa subcompact, now sans hatchback variant. The Sentra line was simplified for 2020, offered with a single engine and transmission choice. Like the new Altima that bowed for 2019, the latest Nissan passenger cars wear a strikingly similar corporate face.

With fewer build configurations but greater content on hand, Nissan hopes the new vehicles attract a stable flow of retail buyers. Before, you were just as likely to see a Nissan car parked in a rental lot as you were in a driveway.

So, were there any winners in the Nissan stable? A few. The Altima, which donned an optional 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder and all-wheel drive for 2019, bested its 2018 standing by 47 vehicles. The cheap and cheerful front-drive Kicks that bowed in June 2018 obviously topped last year’s full-year tally, though recent months saw the subcompact CUV fall behind on a year-over-year basis. December’s Kicks sales showed a 27.7 percent decline.

2018 INFINITI QX80, Image: Infiniti

The midsize Pathfinder and full-size Armada maintained a steady flow of customers last year, sinking only 2.8 and 1.9 percent, respectively. Good news for two high-margin vehicles. The same can’t be said for the popular compact Rogue, which declined 15 percent in 2019.

In the hard-done-by Infiniti stable, only the top-flight QX80 came close to breaking even, sinking just 0.5 percent for the year. The brand’s recently revamped QX50 compact crossover remains a cautionary tale, showing that a newly improved vehicle in a hot segment is not a guarantee of success. The QX50 dropped more than 45 percent in December, with its full-year sales falling 26.7 percent.

New Year’s probably elicited a few mumbles of “Thank God that’s over” from Nissan execs.

[Images: Nissan]

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32 Comments on “As Nissan Holds the Line on Spending, U.S. Sales Hit a Five-year Low...”


  • avatar
    dividebytube

    I’ve said this before but I’ll say it again: I was a huge Nissan fan back in the 80s. Our family had five of them and each was reliable. When it came time to buy my first vehicle out of college, it was a 1994 Nissan truck. When it came time to buy a car for my wife, it was a 1997 Nissan Altima.

    It was the Altima where I saw the cost cutting. The ’87 Stanza I owned before had a better interior and just felt better screwed together. The Altima, on the other hand, used to make these very strange “sprong!” and squeaky noises, even with only 29k miles on the clock.

    At one time I considered Nissan a viable alternative to Toyota and Honda. These days not so much. Whither is the Nissan of yore that made cars that I wanted to buy?

  • avatar
    roloboto

    I see nissans all day, everyday driving around in my part of Canada. Rouges are huge with retirees.

    Also, the Pathfinder is a joke of a vehicle compared to it’s former self.

  • avatar
    sckid213

    Here in Los Angeles, it seems like Kia has captured the Nissan buyers of ~2000-2015. Note these buyers weren’t the Nissan buyers of the ’90s; rather, they were Pontiac buyers in the ’90s who moved to Nissan after it became “sporty” with the ’02 Altima. Now they’ve moved to Kia. Yes, they have low FICOs.

    Kia has been playing all their cards right: financing anyone, consistently coming out with sporty offerings like the Stinger. Not to mention the Telluride, which is everything the Pathfinder should have been. I’ve already seen TONS of Tellurides here in LA.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      “Yes, they have low FICOs.”

      Nice stereotyping. What does it mean when people with scores over 800 buy them and find them to be very good cars?

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      I’m going to call BS here..

      I’m a mortgage underwriter specializing in high-net-worth loans you need a minimum 680 FICO to get. I see MANY credit reports, and “Nissan/Infiniti LT” shows up on quite a few of them.

      Yes, I’m sure Nissan lends to folks with crummy credit. So does every other manufacturer.

      • 0 avatar
        dal20402

        I think you’ll have rather different experiences if you walk into a Nissan and a Honda dealer with a 650 FICO. Not saying you can’t walk out the door with a Honda, but I don’t think the process will feel the same.

        • 0 avatar
          FreedMike

          What, they’re gonna give you the “you don’t have perfect credit” stinkeye? I doubt it. It’s not like people with 650 FICOS don’t have a choice of lenders.

          • 0 avatar
            dal20402

            Honda dealers pretty much find a reason to give everyone the stinkeye, and I’m sure bad credit is a pretty good one.

            At age 27 I bought an Acura TSX instead of a Honda Accord because the Honda dealer wouldn’t take the idea that someone my age could afford a new Accord V6 seriously. That turned out to be the right car decision too, but the dealer treatment was a big factor.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            “because the Honda dealer wouldn’t take the idea that someone my age could afford a new Accord V6 seriously.”

            That’s a new one on me.

            You kids today how could *you* even *afford* this super fine mainline automobile?

      • 0 avatar
        Scoutdude

        High net worth and a 680 seem a little contradictory to me, I haven’t had a score that low since I was in my early 20’s.

        Back to the question, Nissans’s tiers as higher than say Toyota, however they will go down to tier 7 (620) with their advertized rates and they’ll give you an even better deal at Tier 3 (700) while at Toyota you’ll need to be in their Tier 1 (720) to get their advertised special rates.

        That said by Nissan’s own documents 48% of loans originated in 2018 were 740+ and 59% of their leases were 740+, so yeah NMC is lending to people with good credit. However on the other hand many of the Nissan dealers do advertise that they can finance anyone, it just probably won’t be though NMC.

    • 0 avatar
      CKNSLS Sierra SLT

      sckid213-

      Yea-all those people buying $45,000 Tellurides have low FICOS.

      What an ignorant statement.

      • 0 avatar
        brn

        It’s ignorant to use exceptions to counter the norm.

        I used to work at a dealership group with 28 dealers. The high risk buyers definitely tended toward Kia and more recently Nissan. And no, they weren’t buying Tell-u-rides.

        • 0 avatar
          bd2

          At the same time, times have changed.

          Kia sold 51,229 vehicles last month, close to half (23,778) were made up of Optima, Cadenza, Stinger, K900, Sorento, Telluride and Sedona sales.

          The previous gen Optima had a higher ATP than the Camry, Altima and Sonata and at times would even beat the Accord.

          Yes, they still have their fair share of borrowers w/ mediocre FICO scores, but as a brand – they have acquired more near-premium/premium buyers than any other mainstream brand.

          As for Nissan/Datsun – they used to be on par w/ Toyota back in the day and actually was the Japanese Big 3 brand that many enthusiasts oriented towards (the Sentra SE-R was widely lauded as the “poor man’s 3 Series).

          Those days are long gone now.

          • 0 avatar
            brn

            bd2,

            Point taken. I’m not trying to say they sell only to high risk buyers. Just that high risk buyers go that way more than they do for other brands.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            “Those days are long gone now.”

            I very much doubt this but I would yield to actual data.

            “The previous gen Optima had a higher ATP than the Camry, Altima and Sonata and at times would even beat the Accord.”

            Yet the Camry still pulls higher extra clean than the Optima. Fools and their money…

            MY17 Kia Optima LX

            12/31/19 $13,700 1,625 4.5 4G/A White Lease Midwest Ohio
            1/3/20 $14,000 4,044 4.0 4G/A Blue Regular West Coast Nevada
            12/13/19 $12,800 6,666 4.5 4G/A Black Lease Northeast Pennsylvania
            12/30/19 $12,300 12,231 4.2 4G/A Silver Lease Northeast New Jersey
            12/18/19 $13,300 12,991 4.3 4G/A Blue Lease Southwest Dallas
            12/17/19 $12,500 14,659 4.1 4G/A Blue Lease Midwest Ohio
            12/23/19 $13,500 16,047 3.2 4G/A White Lease West Coast Riverside
            1/2/20 $12,000 16,114 4.6 4G/A Purple Lease Midwest Milwaukee
            12/11/19 $12,900 16,251 4.2 4G/A Gray Lease Midwest Milwaukee
            12/18/19 $10,800 16,362 3.8 4G/A Black Lease Midwest Indianapolis
            12/18/19 $10,900 17,426 4.3 4G/A White Lease Midwest Ohio
            12/11/19 $13,200 19,894 4.8 4G/A Black Lease Southeast Nashville
            12/19/19 $13,100 19,954 4.6 4G/A White Lease Midwest Milwaukee

            MY17 Toyota Camry SE

            1/2/20 $17,700 4,197 4.5 4G/A Silver Lease Southwest Texas Hobby
            12/31/19 $16,600 8,061 4.6 4G/A Black Lease Northeast New Jersey
            1/2/20 $12,900* 12,310 4.0 4G/A White Lease Southwest Texas Hobby
            1/2/20 $14,700 13,966 2.8 4G/A Gray Lease Northeast Pennsylvania
            12/31/19 $15,700 14,531 4.0 4G/A Gray Lease Southeast Nashville
            12/31/19 $16,000 14,772 4.2 4G/A Gray Lease Midwest Kansas City
            1/2/20 $14,800 14,923 3.9 4G/A Gray Lease Northeast New Jersey
            12/31/19 $15,000 15,591 3.9 4G/A Red Lease Northeast Baltimore-Washington
            12/31/19 $13,700 15,928 2.6 4G/A Beige Lease Southeast Central Florida
            1/2/20 $15,500 16,358 4.4 4G/A Gray Lease Southeast Atlanta
            1/2/20 $15,500 17,832 4.1 4G/A White Lease Southwest Texas Hobby
            1/3/20 $15,300 18,190 3.8 4G/A White Lease Northeast Pennsylvania
            1/2/20 $15,800 18,728 4.4 4G/A Red Lease Southwest Texas Hobby
            12/31/19 $15,200 19,675 4.0 4G/A Silver Lease Northeast New Jersey

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        I’d want to see data but I would not be surprised if a healthy percentage fell into that category (say 1/3rd) between buys and leases.

  • avatar
    jkross22

    I’ll take a 2 year old Maxima for 70% off MSRP. Unfortunately, they’re nowhere close to that.

  • avatar
    thornmark

    ok, reduced incentive spending

    I’d like to see the numbers, I suspect they’re still near the top for incentives, making their sales plunge even more dire

    • 0 avatar
      ToolGuy

      There’s a table by OEM at the bottom of this Automotive News article:

      https://www.autonews.com/sales/japan-3-gm-exit-2019-soft-note

      Dec 2019 industry average $3,944; Nissan $4,414. Higher than average, but lower than GM, Ford, FCA.

      (Subaru is impressive at $1,153.)

  • avatar

    The 350 Z has been allowed to die on the line. The Maxima is a shadow of its former self. CVT seriously? The GTR is a spectacular worldwide halo car but has no relevance to the rest of the company in the US.

    • 0 avatar
      SSJeep

      The single best thing Nissan can do to improve sales would be to get rid of the dreadful CVT transmissions across their lineup. There are hordes of buyers who have been burned by the 1st and 2nd gen Nissan CVTs, and those buyers will never come back and subject themselves to the same torture.

      I think Nissan can recover if they get back to their roots and build high quality cars for the masses like they did in the 80s and 90s. Make the Pathfinder a BOF SUV again and compete against the 4Runner and Wrangler Unlimited. Launch new Leaf models that have an Atkinson cycle gasoline generator range extender, and make a wagon version.

      • 0 avatar
        N8iveVA

        I agree on the CVT. Even if they’ve improved, too many people were burned by them and will never return to the brand. The CVT in my bf’s Versa went at 76K and they told him if the model year had been 1 year earlier it would have been replaced for free. He’s driving an ’18 Elantra now. I told him the upcoming Elantra has a CVT and he said he wont be getting another one then.

  • avatar
    tankinbeans

    Their designs aren’t generally terrible, but aren’t exciting. The Maxima is terrible, but the rest are generally “some car.” I’m personally not interested in any, but more power to whoever seems to want one.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    All one needs to know about Nissan is Jatco CVT transmissions. Jatco is crapo. For me any discount would not be enough to put up with the poor quality of Nissans and 4k to 6k for a replacement CVT is enough to keep Nissan off my list of vehicles to buy.

  • avatar
    geozinger

    I see Nissan following the same path as the domestics, trying to reduce incentives and sales to rental agencies ostensibly to garner higher ATPs. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to be working, even with newly redesigned product in the showrooms.

    I wonder how long it will be until Nissan stops selling cars in the USDM? Or how long will it be until Toyota starts absorbing Nissan also? The Japanese will not let one of their companies fall.

    Also, how long before all of this will be pinned entirely on Ghosn? With his escape to Lebanon, it should be coming any moment now…

  • avatar
    Reedz55

    Too bad about Nissan. My uncle’s Altima has been a great ride for them in decades. Their very reliable vehicle made it on top once.

  • avatar
    here4aSammich

    I’m confused…. “As the automaker seeks to firm up its financial footing via reduced incentive spending and fleet sales”

    Reduced incentive spending I get, but more or fewer fleet sales? Words mean things. Based upon my own weekly observations at the Emerald Aisle, National seems to be buying every Altima they can get their hands on.

  • avatar

    I would be thrilled if GM could produce vehicles as good as the Altima, Leaf, and new Sentra.

    What a disgrace!

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