The ongoing demise of sedans in the U.S. is well publicized. It’s also completely overblown.
Sure, a handful of automakers have exited various passenger-vehicle segments or are in the process of vacating them, but there’s still money to be made selling automobiles that aren’t pickup trucks or some sort of crossover.
“The size of the sedan market in this country is 5 million [units],” said Denis Le Vot. “It’s not 500,000, OK? It’s big.” A genial Frenchman, he’s worked around the world, serving in countries as varied as Russia and even Turkey. Today, he’s one of Nissan’s top executives in North America, senior vice president and chairman of the firm’s management committee.
Le Vot’s global experience provides him with ample perspective. Even though sedans might be on the skids in America, “This is not about the U.S. only, it’s worldwide,” he said. “Now, we as Nissan have China, a bit of Japan [and] the U.S., that we’re very strong. So, we have an international footprint for the sedans.” Mexico is another extremely important country for the automaker. They’re the top brand there with around 20 percent market share.
Thanks to this global scale, Nissan is somewhat insulated from any declines in U.S. car sales, should they continue to falter. But that may not be the case.
Of course, predicting the future with any certainty is extremely difficult. Le Vot explained, their current sales mix is about 70 percent trucks, a figure that includes utility vehicles, and 30 percent cars. “It’s probably a limit that we are attaining here, right?” he said, adding that over the next couple years they do not see this ratio changing much in the U.S.
Still, going forward several factors could conspire to maintain this balance between trucks and cars or possibly even tip things in the sedan’s favor. One of the most important of which is the younger demographic of drivers.
“When you ask millennials, for instance, their aspiration in terms of cars, they would go to sedans,” noted Le Vot. “Because the crossover is for grandma.” He also said these young motorists want more and more electronics in their vehicles.
Nissan is also happy to meet this demand, to provide cutting-edge technology in a wide range of products. ProPILOT Assist, for instance, the company’s adaptive cruise control system with lane centering, is a brilliant bit of kit and one such feature that’s being offered practically across their model range.
“ProPILOT Assist is [in] 30 percent of the Altimas so far. On the Leaf, it’s 57. And if you take the Rogue, it’s already 41,” explained Le Vot. “This is growing every day, which means that this is not [some] $10,000 super high-tech 3 percent [take] rate, you know… this is massive.” Features like ProPILOT Assist underscore their drive to democratize technology.
Le Vot says they’re trying to do the same thing with Nissan Safety Shield 360, the company’s suite of advanced driver-assistance technology. It includes things like automatic high beams, rear cross-traffic alert and reverse emergency braking.
“And our intention is that 80 percent… of the cars by 2021 will have it,” said Le Vot. “So, again, you’re going to have that on Versa,” which is Nissan’s most affordable model in the U.S. “This is what Nissan calls tech for all.”
Aside from millennials preferring traditional cars to crossovers, added versatility could also save the sedan. For 2019, Nissan’s redesigned Altima midsize four-door is now offered with all-wheel drive. Le Vot says this should dramatically increase its appeal to customers living in Northern parts of the country.
But no matter which direction the market moves, whether utility vehicles continue to gain momentum or sedans come fighting back, Nissan is ready. “So, the thing is we are making trucks, we are making crossovers, we are making cars and we are offering electric solutions,” said Le Vot. “And we are going to offer more and more,” he added, meaning they’re well prepared for the road ahead, wherever it may lead.
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