Drivers have been crossover crazy for years, flocking to car-based utility vehicles like senior citizens to a discount buffet.
This has caused some pundits to proclaim the sedan’s days over, but this is altogether premature, according to Michael Bunce, vice-president of product planning at Nissan North America, who sat down with AutoGuide.com for a one-on-one chat during the 2018 Detroit Auto Show.
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While other automakers are dropping traditional three-box nameplates, with rumors swirling that Ford could bow out of the U.S. sedan market in a big way going forward, Nissan is investing heavily in its core models.
“I mean, it’s interesting. Somebody said to me, ‘… sedans are dead.’ But they’re not,” noted Bunce. “In this country, over 6 million sedans were sold last year, that’s still a huge number.”
There’s also the potential for growth in this segment. Bunce said that even though the sedan’s ongoing sales decline probably hasn’t bottomed out just yet, many younger drivers are looking to move away from car-based utilities, which can be viewed as uncool. “We’ve seen the Millennials, we’ve seen the late centennials who are saying… ‘I don’t want to drive a crossover. I want a sleek, low-riding sedan or coupe,’ or, ‘I want a rugged off-road vehicle.’” These kinds of customers could help strengthen sedan sales.
Since Nissan’s Altima, Sentra, and Versa four-doors are all showing their age, the company is hard at work on replacement models. “The next generations of those cars are on the way,” Bunce noted. “We’re fully committed to sedans. [They still have] an important role to play in this market.”
And it shouldn’t take long for us to figure out what this batch of models will offer. For instance, Bunce hinted that the upcoming Altima’s introduction is nigh. “I use the word very imminent,” he said, though he came short of giving us specific details about the timeline of this nameplate’s introduction. Perhaps it will be unveiled in Chicago, the next city in line on the international auto show circuit.
Beyond the midsize segment, Nissan’s smaller Sentra and Versa models might not be far behind their big brother. According to Bunce, “we’re going to space them out a little bit, not a whole lot,” which means they could be introduced sooner rather than later.
Helping the upcoming Altima stand out from rivals like the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord, which were just comprehensively redesigned, Bunce said, “We’re not going to just offer the same offering we’ve always had. There’s going to be a compelling reason there and some compelling technologies.”
Electrification could play a major role here, as Bunce noted that Tesla has made incredible strides with the humble four-door, done things many people would have never expected. Perhaps the next-generation Altima will achieve the same thing through battery power.
Styling could also help revive this vehicle’s showroom performance. Bunce said emotional expression is a major part of any car’s value equation. With a body that’s easy on the eyes, a car can avoid competing on price and incentive. “So, most definitely, design is a huge piece of that.”
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