Nissan Flees Fleet Reliance With 2020 Sentra
While fleet participation helped Nissan boost its sales volume for years, management feels it hasn’t done the company any favors in terms of profitability. As such, the company says it wants to take the 2020 Sentra out of the rental circuit. If you borrow a vehicle from rental agencies more than never, you’ve probably noticed Nissan’s compact sedan is often the default choice when the supply of Chevrolet Sonics or Toyota Corollas dries up.
Expect less of this moving forward, but be warned it’s not the dream scenario you envisioned. First off, there will undoubtedly be leftover 2019 models on rental lots for some time. Secondly, Nissan improved the 2020 Sentra to a point where you might actually prefer it. The manufacturer made no small effort effort to shore up the sedan’s ride quality, handling, comfort, tech and visual aesthetics for the new generation — succeeding rather well, according to our own Tim Healey. It also has a new 2.0-liter motor offering superior vigor versus its anemic 1.8-liter predecessor. With more on offer, Nissan figured it was a better idea to try it out on customers first, rather than assuming its rightful place is in a rental fleet.
Sentra’s placement as a budget-focused sedan will assuredly bring it back into the rental fold eventually; still, Nissan’s plan to restore profitability involves balancing fleet and retail sales a little better. Around one-third of the model’s U.S. volume went toward the fleet market last year. According to brand manager Rob Warren, that number will be zero for 2020, with the car seeing lower fleet sales even after it’s made available to rental agencies.
“As we are moving into a new direction with the company, we are making sure that we have a healthy balance of fleet with retail,” Warren explained to Automotive News.
Bent on trying to improve overall appeal, Nissan plans to finish refreshing the majority of its lineup as quickly as possible — and dumping them all on rental companies isn’t the straightest route into the hearts of consumers, who are prone toward making negative assumptions about fleet darlings. While yours truly has personally purchased automobiles specifically because of that status (Ford Panther platform, baby), such buys rarely support new car sales in any significant number.
The Sentra’s role as a traditional passenger car does pose a few problems, however. While the enhancements made for the 2020 model year does plenty to make the car more desirable, it still faces healthy competition from rival manufacturers. It’s also operating at a disadvantage in today’s retail market simply by not being a crossover.
From Automotive News:
The strategy shift will not be without challenges. Nissan’s pivot to retail is taking place as the U.S. market drifts away from sedans in favor of crossovers and SUVs.
Compact sedan sales fell 15 percent last year, compared with a 2.4 percent increase in crossover and SUV sales, according to the Automotive News Data Center. Sentra sales tumbled 13 percent to 184,618 last year as the model prepared for a changeover.
“Combined with the lack of fleet sales, the 2020 Sentra may not be able to match the prior generation’s volumes,” said Ed Kim, an analyst with AutoPacific.
But Nissan believes its decision to move away from fleet will not affect Sentra production volume in North America because the vehicle is sold globally. The car is manufactured in Mexico.
Sounds like Nissan isn’t ruling out fleet sales in other parts of the world — something Warren confirmed. “Just because we might fluctuate between retail and fleet balance here in the U.S., it doesn’t necessarily mean that that production volume all has to go to retail,” he said. “We manage this car on a global basis.”
We think Nissan has done a lot to improve the Sentra for the 2020 model year. The new 2.0-liter (149 hp and 145 lb-ft) was an absolute necessity for the U.S. market; the car now seems to be worth a second look. But it’s difficult to believe it won’t eventually return as a regular in the Manager’s Special. At least we’ll feel better about it when we come off a flight only to be told it’s the vehicle we’ll be spending the weekend with. For the first time in a long time, we’ll be able to shrug it off, knowing it could have been much worse.
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If there was an optional engine offered on the upper trim, like a 1.6T that came on a prior Nismo version of the Sentra, we would be less focused on the lackluster CVT. Also, for this new 2.0NA, it has less power than the Corolla with the 2.0NA, and the car overall is slower than the old Sentra SE-R with a 2.0NA. Not really keeping up with the competition.
Until Nissan makes a more reliable CVT then it doesn't really matter what engine is in their cars.