New Nissan Altima Guns for Bigger Slice of Midsize-Sedan Segment
By Lindsay Chappell, Automotive News
Nissan North America has launched production in Tennessee of the redesigned 2013 Altima sedan that it hopes will challenge the family-sedan supremacy of the Toyota Camry.
"We didn't put all of the investment into this product and put in all the features with an expectation to be No. 2," said Bill Krueger, vice chairman of Nissan Americas, after the first 2013 model rolled off the line in Smyrna, Tenn., on May 15. "Ultimately the consumer's going to vote with their purchase whether or not we sell more than anyone else."
The Altima has lagged for most of its 20-year life as the also-ran among family sedans. But in the months following the March 2011 earthquake in Japan, it leapt into the segment's No. 2 spot, bypassing the Honda Accord and nipping closely at the market leading Camry.
With both competitors now looking to reclaim lost ground, Nissan wants to capitalize on the gains. The 2013 redesign boasts segment-leading fuel economy and vehicle weight.
But other challengers are also hot for more of the mid-sized sedan segment, including the big-selling Hyundai Sonata and a trio of cars that are redesigned for 2013 model year--the Honda Accord, Ford Fusion and Chevrolet Malibu.
Krueger said that product enhancements will sell the Altima and he does not intend to raise incentives on it.
"I'm willing to build demand by putting value out in the market place. But I'm not willing to cut and trim profit margin to try and beat a number that one of our competitors is doing," he said. "We don't have any intention of piling incentives on it to try to chase a number."
"Our best foot forward is going to be the product."
Nissan is adding factory capacity for the Altima at both Smyrna and the model's second North American production site in Canton, Miss. Smyrna is hiring 1,000 workers in order to add a third production shift later this year, and managers are also taking steps to increase assembly line speed in Canton to add 20 percent more output there.
Krueger remained cagey about how many Altimas Nissan North America will build this year, or how many Nissan will be capable of building once the changes are made. Both plants are highly flexible and can shuffle output from one model to another with minimal effort.
Krueger told Automotive News several weeks ago that he will build as many Altimas as the market demands. In March, the company sold 41,000 2012-model Altimas--a theoretical volume of nearly 500,000 if that pace kept up for 12 months.
Nissan officials relish telling audiences that the Altima has been performing at that new level even though it is at the end of its model cycle. Even after starting production of the 2013 in Smyrna, Nissan intends to go on building 2012-model Altimas for another month in Mississippi to satisfy demand for the outgoing version.
But all of Nissan factory gains might not translate into more Altima sales volume.
Krueger and his U.S. managers are simultaneously integrating new models into the U.S. plant lineup for the coming year. Smyrna will begin building the Leaf this December, and the high-volume Rogue crossover a year from now. Nissan intends to make 150,000 units of factory capacity available to each of those models.
Annatar, that is incorrect. Nissan has been consistently grabbing more market share in the U.S. for a decade. Nissan has grabbed almost 4 full points of market share during that period. Toyota has only gained two and a half points and Honda has gained one and a half points during the same period. In the last two years both Toyota and Honda have lost share. Toyota finished out 2011 with 12.9% (the peaked at 17% in 2009) and Honda ended 2011 with a 9% market share (after peaking at 11% in 2009).
With the momentum Nissan has upward and Honda has downward, it's is very likely Nissan will pass Honda in U.S. market share. The Altima is already outselling the Accord. Nissan's momentum will also close the gap with Toyota and it's not unrealistic to see them catching Toyota in the next 3-4 years. Nissan certainly has the better looking product and more European-like handling than the appliances Toyota and Honda pump out to the unwitting masses.
Your friend is very fortunate to go that many miles without transmission problems. Many owners would be on their fourth or fifth transmission by that time. I am guessing that with that many miles, he probably drives mostly interstate miles which might explain how he can drive farther on one transmission then the average Accord owner.
Regardless, there will always be exceptions to the rule. I know two Mustang owners with over 150k miles (one is an '05 and one is an '07) with ZERO problems. So if your example of your friend's Accord is proof that Honda builds good cars, they I have provided the same proof that Ford builds good cars as well.
It's also worth mentioning that while production is back to normal and sales are back up (as you pointed out), their rebates and incentives are also WAY up. Currently Honda and Toyota are offering larger rebates then any other company while almost all other manufacturers are cutting rebates down to their lowest in many years. It would be better to compare sales if and when Toyota and Honda can move inventory without massive rebates.
It's kind of scary, but Toyota and Honda look very similar to GM about 10 years ago. They are making a lot of the same business decisions that GM made back then and I think we all know how that turned out.
Toyota is desperately trying to buy back the market share they've lost over the last few years because of recalls and quality issues. One thing for sure, even the outgoing generation of the Altima looks a hundred times better than the new Camry. The 2013 Altima looks far more upscale than a Camry and you can see the influence from Nissan's Infiniti luxury division. Compared to the plain-jane Camry, the Nissan actually has personality.
We are talking about the current model which you have already admitted that you don't own. Feel free to look up the online forums for this car and you will see that many people are already having problems with them. The cost cutting can clearly be seen when you sit in one or test drive it for a free lunch (as my local dealership offered). They might be considered a good value right now due to the massive rebates being offered, but I would be too afraid that the money you save at the time of purchase will just get turned into repair bills down the road. Sorry, but that is too much of a gamble for me.
I agree that the brake pad and rotor issues with Honda Accord (in addition to the auto tranny problems) are unacceptable, but even with those problems, I would still take my chances with the Accord. Again, that is assuming I can only pick between those two cars. If I was actually in the market for a mid size car, I would probably look at something a little more reliable. But that's just me. As you said, "to each their own."
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