Nissan Mid-Size Sedan All New for 2007
Altima Evolves in Style Even With All New Platform
Whenever a high volume mid-size sedan is introduced it is, by definition, big news. These high volume sedans are the mainstream movers of the auto market. The king of the hill is the Toyota Camry, new for the 2007 model year and on the market in Spring 2006. Camry is the top selling “automobile” on the market. The Honda Accord is the second of the top tier Japanese heavyweights. The Nissan Altima is the third of these top tier Japanese competitors. Just about every buyer of a mid-size car looks at one of these three entries before buying. Of course, we can’t forget the likes of the Ford Fusion, Chevrolet Malibu and Impala, Mazda6 or Mitsubishi Galant, but the top three from Toyota, Honda and Nissan command the most attention.
Nissan showed its new-for-2007 Altima at the New York Auto Show in April and slipped in a few surprises. Counter to most recent design moves, the new Altima’s D-Platform body rides on a 1-inch SHORTER wheelbase. This is a bit surprising when most new cars get longer wheelbases as they evolve these days. Overall length remains the same.
CVT Standard with V6 – Brave Move Reminiscent of Murano
Additionally, Altima’s automatic transmission is now a CVT with the V6 rather than a geared automatic. A 6-speed manual is available for those who like to row between gears. This CVT news is major. Probably means a substantial cost reduction. The Nissan Murano crossover SUV has had a CVT since day one and has done pretty well. Whether a CVT in a major application like Altima is accepted time will tell. Brave move.
Styling Evolutionary – Interior Execution Critical to Success
The new Altima has evolutionary styling. You can probably say that it is not as distinctive and sophisticated as the previous generation Altima, but it is more distinctive than Accord or Camry.
A major bugaboo for the last Altima was its cut rate interior for the first three years on the market. Until a major interior upgrade for the 2005 model year, Altima interiors were downscale. Clearly met cost targets but not touch targets. After adding hundreds of dollars in interior upgrades for 2005, Nissan suppliers were given very aggressive cost reduction targets for the 2007 model. Hopefully, they have found the cost offsets in places where consumers can’t see or feel them.
Nissan’s abbreviated press kit states, “Enhanced interior feel with refined workmanship, expanded use of soft materials (such as padded armrests) and chrome accents.” Can’t wait!
Altima Still Nicely Powered
Power for the Altima comes from a 3.5L DOHC 24-valve V6 with 265-plus horsepower. Its 2.5L DOHC 16-valve 4-cylinder has 165-plus horsepower.
Well, jury is out on the new generation Altima. We’ll have to wait until we drive one and experience the interior over several miles before reaching a verdict.
Welcome to “Let’s Talk Cars”
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This week on Let’s Talk Cars, it’s all about consideration, brand consideration that is. AutoPacific founder and president George Peterson and VehicleVoice contributor Jim Hall have another go at polite conversation while tackling a new AutoPacific consumer survey that has American automotive manufacturers slipping, Mercedes tanking, and Toyota doing back flips, albeit in a deprivation tank.
And with 91 octane fuel going for well over $3 a gallon in California, we give you the Lexus GS450h – the newest hybrid from the luxury arm of Toyota. Worth the money? Hear what Jim and George have to say.
01:52 Brand Consideration Research – VehicleVoice contributor Jim Hall and AutoPacific president and founder, George Peterson
16:00 Lexus GS450h – VehicleVoice contributor Jim Hall and AutoPacific president and founder, George Peterson
Camry Hybrid Launches with $25,900 Price Tag
Accord Hybrid Versus Camry Hybrid
Toyota has just announced pricing for its latest hybrid, the Camry. Sitting at the heart of the car market, this family sedan has a 187HP four-cylinder hybrid system that offers almost as much power as the launch V6-powered 2002 Camry. For a mere $25,900, one can get a hybrid powertrain and standard equipment including automatic headlights, premium audio, cruise control, Bluetooth, power driver’s seat, sixteen-inch wheels, heated side mirrors, dual-zone automatic climate control, and an ECO button that further improves fuel economy by controlling the HVAC system in certain situations. It arrives in dealers in May 2006.
This is an issue that VehicleVoice and AutoPacific has been tracking. Will a performance-oriented hybrid be more persuasive than a fuel economy biased hybrid. Honda has adopted the performance strategy with Accord, but not with Civic. Toyota has gone the fuel economy route with its Toyota brand hybrids, but with performance-oriented strategies with its Lexus brand hybrids. Over time, it will be very interesting to see how these differing strategies play out.
Camry launches with a price about $5000 less than Honda
‘s Accord hybrid sedan
, which uses a V6 and, with 253HP, offers significantly more horsepower. This dramatic difference in horsepower ratings presents an interesting case study. So far, hybrids have been primarily for improving fuel economy, as with the Prius and Civic hybrids, or for getting luxury performance with a smaller hit at the pump, as with the Lexus hybrids. But the Camry and the Accord hybrids go head-to-head in segment and size with slightly different philosophies, giving the market an the opportunity indicate a preference for hybrids with improved overall performance versus for hybrids focused more purely on improved fuel economy.
Every April, Consumer Reports publishes its Annual Auto Issue. This is the most widely read issue of Consumer Reports by far. There is information not only on new cars and trucks, but also on cars that have been in operation for years. VehicleVoice survey research and AutoPacific survey and focus group research concludes that Consumer Reports can have a significant impact on what cars and trucks an American driver may select. When asked what information sources a person uses when deciding what car to look at, Consumer Reports is often the first source mentioned.
Consumer Reports has gone beyond simply reporting the results of the surveys of its subscribers. Now they weigh in editorially and even select a Top Ten. But those vehicles are those discussed in Consumer Reports’ press releases. When you delve deeper into the April 2006 issue itself, there are many more vehicles worthy of attention. But, first for the Top Ten, as determined by Consumer Reports:
Best Sedan Less Than $20,000: Honda Civic
Best Sedan $20,000 to $30,000: Honda Accord
Best Sedan $30,000 to $40,000: Acura TL
Best Luxury Sedan: Infiniti M35
Best SUV Less Than $30,000: Subaru Forester
Best SUV More Than $30,000: Toyota Highlander Hybrid
Best Pickup Truck: Honda Ridgeline
Best Minivan: Honda Odyssey
Best Green Car: Toyota Prius
Most Fun to Drive: Subaru Impreza WRX-STi
Yes, you are right. There are no American cars or trucks in the list. There are no European cars in the list. There are no Korean cars in the list. Japanese brands swept the 2006 Consumer Reports Top Ten. And of those Japanese brands, Honda (including Acura) got five of the Top Ten positions. This is the first time that Japanese brand vehicles have swept these awards.
There is consolation, of course, that the Hondas are at least assembled in the USA.
Technorati Tags: AutoPacific, Consumer Reports, VehicleVoice, Honda
Motorweek, the PBS-oriented car show, announced the winners of its 2006 Driver’s Choice Awards at the 2006 Chicago Auto Show. It will be interesting to see how these winners correspond to the owner awards from VehicleVoice and AutoPacific. The surveys for the annual AutoPacific Vehicle Satisfaction Award are in the field during the 1st Quarter 2006 and winners will be announced in early May.
Their winners include:
Best of the Year: Honda Civic
Best Small Car: Honda Civic
Best Family Sedan: Hyundai Sonata
Best Minivan: Honda Odyssey
Best Convertible: Pontiac Solstice
Best Luxury Sedan: Infiniti M-Series
Best Sports Sedan: BMW 3-Series
Best Performance Car: Ford Mustang
Best Small Sport Utility Vehicle: Toyota RAV4 (guess they didn’t measure it… Mid-Size SUV now)
Best Family Sport Utility Vehicle: Ford Explorer and Mercury Mountaineer
Best Pickup Truck: Ford F-150
Best Eco-Friendly: Toyota Highlander Hybrid
Best Dream Machine: Chevrolet Corvette ZO6, Dodge Viper SRT10 Coupe, Ferrari F430
Special Category: Most Jane Car: BMW 3-Series
Arguably the biggest news at the Chicago Auto Show was the first glimpse of the all new 2007 Toyota Tundra pickup. Well, maybe it was not arguably, but absolutely the biggest news. Can Toyota be stopped? Will the Tundra gut the family jewels of the Big Three chipping away at the last remaining profitable units in the Silverado, Ram and F-Series lineups? Is the Tundra a breakthrough in full size pickup design? Has Toyota finally fielded a fully competitive pickup? Lots of questions were answered at Chicago and many remain to be answered. VehicleVoice correspondents and AutoPacific analysts were on hand to see the reveal of the Tundra first hand.
Toyota Motor Sales, USA President Jim Press Pitching the New Tundra
Clearly the new Tundra is a substantially stronger competitor than the present Tundra. It is larger and will have a 5.7L V8 available as its top powertrain. With a larger displacement than the Nissan Titan, it is expected the Tundra V8 will get about 325HP although power numbers were not provided. The Tundra 4×4 shown on the stand can tow 10,000 pounds which should be class-leading among half-ton pickups. But many people were expecting the new Tundra to be a breakthrough product. They were expecting a new benchmark for full size pickups. They were expecting Tundra to be 105% of a typical half ton pickup.
What they got was maybe 101% or 102%. Nice truck. But not as muy macho as the FT-X Concept Truck of 2004.
Toyota Joins NASCAR NEXTEL Cup and Busch Racing Series in 2007
Back in 2004 when Toyota announced its participation in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series with the Tundra, speculation started about whether the company would go for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup. As of January 2006, three teams have signed up to race Camry sedans in the 2007 NEXTEL Cup series (Bill Davis Racing, Michael Waltrip Racing, and newcomer-to-NASCAR Team Red Bull). Busch teams have not been announced. Toyota’s website for NASCAR_2007 says “This Year Will go Very Fast.”
The Camry has held the best-selling car slot for the past four years (and eight of the past nine). It has long stood for dependable, reliable transportation, but not inspired emotion or passion. Racing the Camry on Sunday is more about generating excitement for Camry and Toyota brands than about direct increases in sales on Monday. Toyota’s involvement in NASCAR will not convert a deeply pro-American buyer into a Camry owner. Nothing will do that. But it can give Camry owners something to be proud of on NASCAR race days and may attract some with less-idealistic reasons for not having considered a Camry.
We have all been following the press accounts of Toyota becoming the top producing vehicle manufacturer in the world in 2006 and we have heard statements by Toyota management that Toyota is going to become more aggressive in the future. Historically, Toyota has taken a relatively humble and mild stance to its growing presence worldwide and in the USA particularly, but in 2003 the gloves came off with Toyota Motor Sales USA taking a higher profile. Their pace of advance will quicken substantially in 2006.
VehicleVoice contributor and AutoPacific‘s President George Peterson takes a quick look at Toyota’s 2006 plans.
Toyota Has Guns Blazing in 2006
It looks like the 2007 model year is going to be the year when Toyota really comes in with all guns blazing. I guess that we can’t include the all new RAV4, now moving upmarket and sporting a 3.5L V6 engine as part of the onslaught. It was launched in late 2005 as a 2006 model. The new RAV4 is outstanding and is reported to be the fastest vehicle carrying a Toyota badge today.
During 2006, the 2007 models will be introduced starting with the all new Yaris, major change for the Camry, launch of an all new hybrid Toyota Camry, launch of the all new FJ Cruiser, launch of a truly competitive full size pickup, launch of a new Lexus ES330 and new Lexus LS460.
AutoExtremist Peter DeLorenzo sums it up well in his observations of Toyota, “We’re not only going to tell you what play we’re going to run, we’re going to ram the ball down your throats knowing that there’s not a damn thing you can do to stop us. What can you say about Toyota other than that they continue in their relentless pursuit of world domination, and there appears to be no one capable of standing in their way?”
Lets touch on each of these in order of launch…
Welcome to “Let’s Talk Cars.”
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The premier episode of Let’s Talk Cars covers the purchase of General_Motors‘ stake in Fuji Heavy Industries by Toyota Motor Corporation. Is GM finding ways to streamline it’s operations? How does Saab fit into the picture?
Noted industry analyst Jim Hall speaks with AutoPacific founder and VehicleVoice editor George Peterson to give you the inside scoop on this hot automotive topic.
Jim Healey of USA Today reaches similar conclusions as VehicleVoice (http://www.vehiclevoice.com) and AutoPacific (http://www.autopacific.com) relative to the upcoming Toyota Yaris. Excellent replacement for the Toyota Echo, low entry price, but seems a little expensive when loaded with equipment most American drivers demand.
ATLANTA — Yaris is a small, economy car that will replace the unloved Echo in Toyota’s U.S. lineup this spring, and while it is pleasant enough behind the wheel, Yaris seems to fall short of Toyota’s promise of a premium vehicle at a bargain price.
Two body styles of Toyota’s Yaris are offered in the USA, a four-door sedan and a “liftback.”
Final judgment must wait for specific pricing, which Toyota won’t announce until closer to Yaris’ March or April on-sale date. But $12,000 to start is a fair guess, and for that price you won’t get a radio, possibly not a tachometer, definitely not anti-lock brakes. (Photos/audio: Toyota Yaris with Healey’s comments)
Most of the desirable features are available, for a price. If that strategy bumps Yaris up to, say, $14,000 outfitted as most Americans like, then it will be within a few hundred dollars of bigger, more refined cars such as Honda Civic and Toyota’s own Corolla. Not incidentally, Corolla’s fuel-economy rating is better than Yaris’, and Civic’s is nearly as good, even though both are bigger, heavier and have more-powerful engines.
The industry axiom is “small cars, small profits,” and it’s often true. So why bother introducing a subcompact into the size- and space- and power-loving American market? Because 45% of small-car owners — the most of any segment — eventually trade up to pricier, more-profitable models known as premium compacts, such as Civic and Corolla, according to the Power Information Network. And within that group, a significant number — 30%-plus is common — stay with the same brand, PIN data show.
In other words, buyers captured by small cars don’t require as much expensive persuading to get them to move up through the same car company’s more-profitable models.
Hoping to leverage Yaris’ appeal, Toyota says it put two separate engineering teams to work on two versions of Yaris — a four-door sedan and a two-door hatchback — and kept them apart to encourage independent design.
Toyota calls the hatchback a “liftback,” sensing that “hatchback” remains a pejorative term in the U.S. market.
The sedan is the bigger car, outside and in. The rear seat in the hatchback slides fore-aft to maximize either legroom or cargo space. With the rear seat all the way back, there is plenty of adult legroom. That’s remarkable in such a small vehicle.
The main test vehicle was a two-door hatchback equipped with a five-speed manual transmission.