NEW YORK – Production of the ’16 Altima, scheduled to arrive in dealer showrooms later this month, is under way at Nissan’s Smyrna, TN, assembly plant.
The Altima, which also is assembled in a Nissan plant in Pusan, Korea, is sold in 37 countries but surprisingly not in Japan.
Nissan’s main competitors, Toyota and Honda, do sell the Camry and Accord, respectively, in their home market. But Honda doesn’t sell its conventional gasoline-fueled Accord in Japan. It only sells hybrid and plug-in hybrids in that market.
The Altima, however, is the only one of the three top-selling cars in the midsize sedan segment whose volume is growing. Toyota still leads the segment in the U.S., but sales of its Camry are down nearly 2% through the end of October. The Altima is closing the gap with the second-place Accord, whose sales for the year’s first 10 months were down 11% year-on-year.
The Altima, now in sell-down phase prior to the ’16 model rollout, saw deliveries grow 1% in October and trails the Accord by about 11,000 units year-to-date.
Pierre Loing, Nissan vice president-product planning, says Japanese car buyers consider midsize sedans too big for driving conditions there. “Minicars account for about 40% of the Japanese market,” he says.
With the segment racking up impressive sales in the U.S. despite dipping this year, Loing says Nissan invested four times as much money in the Altima refresh than it would on a conventional midcycle change in other models in its portfolio.
The ’16 Altima will be available in four trim levels: S, SR, SV and SL. “Market share up to now has been skewed to the lower trim levels,” Loing says, noting the S and SR models account for 50%-60% of volume. “We hope to grow the sales of the upper trim levels with this 2016 model,” he says.
Altima deliveries have climbed for five straight years, and a Nissan spokesman forecasts ’16 sales will extend that streak to six. The automaker says Altima volume could reach 350,000 units next year.
Loing is confident Altima can overtake the Accord in sales, although he doubts surpassing Honda in total light-vehicle deliveries will happen anytime soon. Honda’s U.S. LV sales totaled 2,071,446 through October compared with Nissan’s 1,238,535, according to WardsAuto data.
But Loing sees sales growth opportunity for Nissan in two segments that may help narrow the gap: fullsize trucks and compact cars.
Nissan’s presence in the fullsize-truck market currently is negligible, but a new-generation Titan is coming soon and the executive believes it will gain significant market share.
Loing believes the Sentra has much potential to gain a bigger share of the compact-car segment. Honda’s Civic has outsold the Sentra by more than 100,000 units so far this year, even though the Nissan compact’s sales have risen almost 10% while Civic deliveries have been virtually flat.