What's a redesign worth to an automaker? Very often, it can mean a whole new life with a boom in sales. Nissan unveiled the redesigned Altima at the 2012 New York International Auto Show, and we think the new version should get a big boost at dealerships by fall, but because the current version is selling so well even today, the Altima may not outperform other recent redesigns.
At the auto show, Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn said he expects the Altima to outsell its predecessor enough to "take a shot at being No. 1 in the segment" — meaning it would unseat the Toyota Camry, the best-selling car in America since 2001. The Altima is right on the Camry's tail, falling short by fewer than 10,000 sales through March.
That means car shoppers should keep an eye out for possible deals at year's end on both cars as Nissan and Toyota duke it out. That's uncommon for newly redesigned cars but possible here given the stakes involved in the arms race to claim the title of "best-selling car in the country."Cars.com editors spent plenty of time with the Altima in New York, and we came away impressed:
- With its base four-cylinder and automatic transmission, the Altima's expected 27/38 mpg city/highway EPA rating will be a huge draw.
- With the auto show car's good cabin quality and comfortable seats.
- With the $22,500 price for a well-equipped Altima 2.5 S, which is sure to be the volume trim.
Given all those factors, among others, we expect the new Altima to see a 39% increase in sales by year's end, compared with the previous year. How'd we make our prediction?
A redesigned car typically outsells its predecessor. By analyzing all 48 model redesigns from the 2009, 2010 and 2011 model years, we determined that the best-selling redesigned cars sold, on average, 30% above market growth.
For Nissan, the growth would be 24% above market growth of roughly 15%, and that should satisfy Nissan. Still, given the right circumstances, we think the Altima could have done even better. Here's why:
- The marketplace has shifted. In 2011, the current Altima surprisingly outpaced the industry's 10% sales gain with a healthy 17% increase — excellent for a car that's been largely unchanged since late 2006. But much of that may have come thanks to Nissan skirting the inventory shortages that hurt its archrivals, the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord, after Japan's March 2011 earthquake and tsunami. But its competitors have resolved their production issues and are back in force.
- The competition is tough. It's rare that family-car shoppers see this many redesigns in such a short time. Several popular redesigned nameplates will compete for consumers this year: the Altima, the Toyota Camry, the Ford Fusion, the Chevrolet Malibu, the Honda Accord and the Volkswagen Passat. Nissan likely will put serious marketing behind the Altima, but Honda, Toyota, Ford and GM will do the same, and shoppers will be more aware than ever of their choices.
- The car looks different, but not radically so. Big sales shifts are often attained through radical styling changes. The redesigned 2011 Hyundai Sonata handily outsold its staid predecessor, exceeding market growth by 64.6% in its first few months on lots. The sharp-looking Kia Optima had an even dowdier predecessor, and it beat the market by 121.5%. The 2013 Altima takes cues from Nissan's flagship Maxima, and it has some interesting lines, but it doesn't reinvent the styling wheel.
Despite the daunting competitive landscape, if the Altima can capture that No. 1 crown the entire Nissan brand could see a lift in consumer consideration.
Sources for data include Automotive News and automaker data, as well as various news sources to determine on-sale dates.