Nissan Upgrades Versa, Hopes to Keep Sales Title

The Japanese automaker has had the No.1-selling traditionally styled subcompact car in the U.S. for a decade.

Christie Schweinsberg, Senior Editor

August 5, 2019

4 Min Read
20 Versa Blue_6-source
'20 Versa sedan on sale now in U.S.

NASHVILLE – Despite the slide in subcompact sales this year, Nissan is predicting holding the line on, if not increasing, deliveries of its Versa model.

The redesigned Versa subcompact sedan, which went on sale in the U.S. Aug. 2, has the usual updates (engine and transmission, fuel economy -- see given to most redesigned vehicles, but perhaps most importantly has the kind of infotainment and safety tech many car buyers are said to be clamoring for today.

“We’ve got…a lot of safety features, a lot of technology that’s in this car that you wouldn’t expect in this segment,” Rob Warren, director-chief marketing manager’s office for Nissan North America, tells media here last week during a ’20 Versa preview.

Nissan is offering four of its six Safety Shield 360 technologies as standard equipment on the base S grade of the new Versa, including automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, rear automatic braking, high-beam assist and lane departure warning.

The remaining two technologies, blindspot warning and rear cross traffic alert, are available on SV and SR grades of the car.

Buyers wanting adaptive cruise control can get it on the SR as part of a $300 option package that also includes heated front seats.

A safety technology on the SV and SR grades, and that is fairly rare today, is Nissan’s rear door alert.

“(This technology) knows if a rear door was open and closed before a driver begins their drive, and then reminds them when they come to a stop to exit the car to check the backseat for precious cargo – a sleeping baby, but something even as simple as a carton of ice cream that would melt,” says Karen Long, senior manager-chief marketing manager’s office for NNA.

Among tech-related creature comforts, buyers of all grades get push-button start and three USB ports, two for charging and one that charges and connects a device to the car’s head unit.

Also standard across all grades is Bluetooth, Siri Eyes Free, Google Assistant and a 7-in. (18-cm) touchscreen.

2020 Nissan Versa interior wide.jpg

2020 Nissan Versa interior wide_0

Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard on SV and SR grades, which also have SiriusXM satellite radio capability. The top SR grade has a 6-speaker audio system vs. the standard 4-speaker system on the S and SV models, as well as remote engine start.

If you discount the boxy, van-like Kia Soul, Nissan has had the top-selling subcompact among traditionally styled B-cars for the past 10 years in the U.S., per Wards Intelligence data.

Last year, the Versa racked up 75,809 sales, placing it roughly 24,000 units ahead of the No.3-selling Chevy Spark and more than double the volume of the No.4 Ford Fiesta in Wards Intelligence's Lower Small segment.

“I expect that we still will be (the segment leader in 2019),” Warren tells Wards during a ’20 Versa media drive here last week.

Warren says Nissan does get some cross-shopping with the Fiesta, and that car’s departure from the B-car segment in the U.S. gives “some potential for additional sales there.”

Despite the market shift toward light trucks, Nissan has said a survey it commissioned shows high consideration and satisfaction rates for cars, giving it hope the B-car segment will remain relatively strong.

The old Nissan Versa once carried the dubious distinction of being the lowest-priced new vehicle available in the U.S., but those days are over, Nissan says.

“It’s not our goal to be the cheapest car in America. It’s our goal to be the best value,” Warren says.

Because of added content, the price of the new ’20 Versa sedan is $14,730, up from $12,460 for the ’19 sedan. A 5-speed manual transmission is standard. Buyers wanting an automatic (Nissan’s Xtronic CVT) will pay $16,400.

The ’20 Versa SV (CVT only) is $17,640 and the SR begins at $18,240. Destination and handling for all grades is an additional $895.

Nissan says it has identified and is targeting four distinct groups with its planned marketing for the car, including first-time vehicle buyers, “Wanderlusters” (i.e. bargain-hunters having fun), “Self-Strivers” (active females) and the heads of multi-generational families.

Erich Mark, marketing communications director for the U.S., says Nissan sees its total potential audience for the new Versa at 16.2 million people.

The automaker will use traditional TV commercials airing in September to advertise the vehicle, as well as Instagram stories and online videos, some directed at Hispanic buyers and others touting various technologies including rear auto braking and AEB.

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