Denis LeVot: “We think 30 percent is the bottom.” Photo credit: ANGELINA CZARNECKI
America’s historic consumer shift away from cars is a done deal, right?
Sedans have slipped from about 50 percent of the U.S. market six years ago to roughly 30 percent in 2018 — and below 30 percent in August.
So who is talking about a sedan resurgence? Well, there’s Denis Le Vot.
The spirited Frenchman who became chairman of Nissan North America in January is convinced cars can make a comeback, and his beliefs underscore Nissan’s product strategy — at least in the U.S.
“We think 30 percent is the bottom,” he told Automotive News last week.
Le Vot’s logic: Market factors will bring consumers back to the segment.
“Market intelligence is telling us that Generation Z’s favorite body style is sedans,” Le Vot said. “The big wheel is turning.”
He says higher interest rates will push many price-sensitive buyers back out of more expensive crossovers and SUVs.
It’s a comeback scenario little heard throughout the industry. The Ford brand said this year it will end all of its cars except for the iconic Mustang and a new Focus Active. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles has phased out the Dodge Dart and Chrysler 200 to focus on Jeeps and pickups.
Le Vot said the new Altima is the first in a wave of sedans coming from Nissan over the next two years, and all of them stand to grow.
“This is just the start,” he said of the Altima makeover. “By 2020, we’re going to be renewing 70 percent of our volume of sales. That is the core sedans, the core crossover and one of the trucks.
“We’re really in a new phase of renewing,” he said.
The addition of all-wheel drive to the Altima will reassure some buyers who want the safety of an SUV. And rising fuel costs will favor more fuel-efficient sedans, Le Vot said.
He said Nissan stands to increase its conquest in sedans as other brands, including Ford, back away from the shrinking pool.
‘Looking for tech’
To punch back, Nissan has stuffed the next-gen midsize, or D-segment, Altima with awd, a revolutionary new variable compression four-cylinder engine and advanced safety technologies such as ProPilot Assist and Safety Shield 360 with rear automatic braking.
“People are looking for tech,” Le Vot said. “There used to be less tech in a D sedan. Now, we’re getting back with the most concentrated technology we’ve ever had.”
It is a power play for the Altima, which until recently had been Nissan’s perennial volume leader — now displaced in the top spot by the Rogue crossover.
Nissan will build the Altima on a global sedan platform that also will be manufactured in China, meaning that it has the expanded sales potential to justify a business case for including expensive new technologies such as awd.
But Le Vot also hinted that Nissan will be fanning the flame by enhancing all of its sedans in the coming year or two. He stopped short of revealing specific product plans.
Nissan believes China is a promising market for the Altima. But the company has no interest in attempting to sell it in Europe.
Why not Europe? Well, the view on sedans happens to be different at Nissan’s European operations, which announced last week that it is exiting two compact car lines in Europe and Russia, citing a consumer swing toward SUVs there.
Nissan, which has had trouble selling sedans in Europe for years, said it will end production of the Almera sedan in Russia this year, and it stopped building the Pulsar hatchback for Europe in June. The decision was made in response to “a rapidly increasing switch by European customers from traditional vehicle segments to crossovers,” Nissan said in a statement.
The electric Leaf is the only remaining compact car that Nissan will market in Europe.
Same company. Different views of sales opportunities.
Nick Gibbs of Automotive News Europe contributed to this report.