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Next-Gen Nissan Cars to Bear Family Resemblance; Sentra Coupe Possible

Versa subcompact 4- and 5-door models, plus the Sentra compact sedan and Altima midsize coupe and sedan, all last new in 2006, are due for redesigns in the next two years.

Expect to see shared DNA in the look of Nissan North America Inc.’s next-generation passenger cars, a design element that is missing with the current versions, a top company executive concedes.

“You’re going to see a clear resemblance” between the new Versa, Sentra and Altima, Larry Dominique, chief product planner for NNA tells Ward’s. “(It will be) clear all the (models) are related to each other.”

Versa subcompact 4- and 5-door models, plus the Sentra compact sedan and Altima midsize coupe and sedan, all last new in 2006, are due for redesigns in the next two years.

The three nameplates, combined, account for a large percentage of Nissan’s total U.S. sales, with the Altima its best-selling model.

The next-generation Versa will ride on Nissan’s new V-platform that also underpins the new March/Micra sold overseas. But Dominique says the March/Micra won’t be coming to the U.S.

Despite lackluster sales of the current Versa sedan, Nissan once again will offer both hatchback and sedan body styles.

The redesigned Versa range will hold onto its leading share of the subcompact segment in the U.S., Dominique confidently predicts, despite an onslaught of new competitors that includes Ford Motor Co.’s Fiesta.

“That’s an expensive car,” he says of the Fiesta. “We’re not an expensive car.”

The ’11 Fiesta sedan starts at $13,995, compared with the ’11 Versa’s $9,990 base price. The Fiesta hatchback also is more pricey than the Versa 5-door.

Through August, Versa sales were up 18.2% to 69,715 units, Ward’s data shows. The Honda Fit, with 36,144, was the nearest competitor.

The next Sentra will be similar to the version sold in China, Dominique says. The tall, narrow shape of the current sedan was conceived for tight European streets. A Sentra coupe also is a possibility.

Nissan considered a front-wheel-drive, low-cost coupe along the lines of its defunct 240SX model before the global economy collapsed in 2008. Dominique says an estimated annual volume of 30,000 units was not convincing enough.

Future Nissans have to be “high-volume and high-share kind of products,” he says. “I’m not looking to fill every niche, every opportunity. If I let my product planners go, they could come up with 15 other cars we should have.”

He says he would be more inclined to do a derivative of the Sentra than introduce an entirely new nameplate.

Dominique does not reveal details of the next-generation Altima other than to say it’s a struggle for Nissan to improve on the best-selling nameplate. “(It’s) “a great successful car, a beautiful car. How much do you need to evolve or radically change it?”

The current Altima introduced in 2006 was little changed dimensionally from the previous model, despite riding on the then-new D platform co-developed with Nissan alliance-partner Renault SA.

Nissan engineers did shrink the car’s wheelbase 0.9 ins. (2.3 cm) from the old FF-L-platform, a move that ended up being at odds with competitor Honda Motor Co. Ltd.’s decision to radically enlarge the Accord in 2008.

While neither the media nor consumers have yet to view the new product lineup, Dominique says some of the brand’s best-performing dealers have given all the cars a thumbs up. “They’re probably more excited than I’ve ever seen them.”

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TAGS: Vehicles
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