Nissan has started shipping the new 2013 Altima, its best selling mid-size car and longstanding contender in the family car wars. The all-new 2013 Altima, which has been produced at Nissan’s Smyrna Vehicle Assembly Plant in Tennessee since the first generation rolled off the line in 1992 is now also produced at Canton, Mississippi because of the high volumes involved. Altima will take on the reigning champion – Toyota Camry revised this year, and the upcoming new Honda Accord and Chevrolet Malibu in a battle royal.
By the end of this year, both Nissan plants will operate at three shifts to maximize production of what could be country’s second best-selling car. The Mexican-built Ford Fusion, also revised for 2013, will remain capacity restrained for the near future is a factor here, as is the Hyundai Sonata, which is also bumping up against production constraints. The family car market has never been more competitive, nor have the products been as sophisticated – good news for buyers but not automakers, where the bulk of sales transactions are in the $22,000 to $30,000 range.
With more than 4.4 million Altima cars sold to date, Nissan’s highest volume vehicle is also projected to become a major U.S. export for the Japanese company since the strong Yen is making shipping out of Japanese plants a difficult proposition. Already the U.S. exports Altima sedans to 40 countries, with the goal to expand to 100 countries for the new Altima. With the 2013 model, Nissan plans to make more than 300,000 sedans in the next year to meet the demand it is hoping will appear.
Marketing plans and such p.r. babble aside, the Altima sedan itself appears to be a good product with a base 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and new ‘Xtronic” continuously variable transmission, which drives the front wheels. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has just certified the 2013 Nissan model as the most fuel-efficient gasoline mid-size car in America, with ratings of 27 mpg city, 38 mpg highway and 31 mpg combined. A much more powerful (270 horsepower versus 182) and as yet unrated but undoubtedly thirsty 3.5-liter V6 is also available, which complicates the line and might be a bad engineering direction given Hyundai’s proven weight saving and efficiency technique of only offering 4- cylinder engines in the class – turbo or naturally aspirated in the wildly successful Sonata. Both Sonata and Toyota Camry get 35 mpg on the highway and 28 mpg combined, so fuel economy may not matter all that much here.
In the fickle car buyer’s mind, other factors might prevail. Here the Altima, starting at ~$22,000, appears a thoroughly mainstream entry without any apparent unique selling proposition to build upon. Nissan marketing in the past has been largely centered on price so in the end, final pricing, lease terms and projected resale value – all unknown now – will heavily influence customer demand.