Going on sale in July 2012, the new Nissan Altima joins the most competitive car class in the market. Representing the second largest car segment (after small cars), the mid-size car class is critically important to each manufacturer in the class; volume, profits and image are on the line.
It is hard to believe that the AutoPacific 2010 President’s Award Winner, the 2011 Hyundai Sonata, is about to be the oldest major competitor in the class. The 2013 Nissan Altima joins the new Toyota Camry (new for the 2012MY) and Chevrolet Malibu (2013 Eco model is on the market now) and awaits the launches of the upcoming 2013 heavyweights – Honda Accord and Ford Fusion in Fall 2012.
First seen at the 2012 New York International Auto Show in April, the Altima drew “WOWs” from the media at its unveiling. The management of some competitors gulped and looked a bit nervous. Most were very complimentary; the new Altima has gone upscale in a big way without adding much to its price tag.
Traditionally, the mid-size car class has been noted for its relatively bland styling. That changed with the launch of the 2011 Sonata in early 2010 where over half of the buyers indicated that exterior styling was extremely important in their selection of the car. Sonata’s swoopy styling broke the mid-size car mold. The 2011 Kia Optima that followed the Sonata is strikingly handsome in its own Euro-Korean way. Toyota stayed very conservative with its new 2012 entry and Honda is rumored to have continued its very conservative streak with the next generation Accord coming this fall. The 2013 Ford Fusion is another game changer in the mold of Sonata and Optima, but even with Fusion’s advanced styling, Altima may have pushed the envelope the farthest. Nissan calls it “Altimaness”.
A Waiting Line for a Mid-Size Sedan?
As we dive into our coverage of the 2008 North American International Auto Show, we can take a quick look back at one of the most important 2007 introductions. Chevrolet’s Malibu went on sale in November, after being launched in Detroit last January. And in an unusual turn of events for Chevrolet, they couldn’t build enough Malibus in those early months to meet demand, and it will take a bit of time for the inventory to build up. Perhaps consumers agree that the Malibu is a car you can’t ignore. We’ll see where sales level out as the pipeline fills and the year wears on, but too few is not a problem GM sees often.
Now that we’ve driven it, we can say that Chevrolet has what it takes this time to bring mid-size sedan buyers back to the fold and prove that their quality is firmly on par with the competition.
Late last fall, we had the chance to drive one of Chevy’s high-volume sellers around Memphis, Tennessee, edging south and dipping into Mississippi. We had mostly smooth roads and sweeping curves. Malibu offers two engines, a 146HP 2.4L I4 and a 217HP 3.6L V6. The I4 is also used for the gasoline portion of the mild hybrid equation. Though the non-hybrid I4 launched with a four-speed automatic, it will be mated to a six-speed automatic in summer 2008.
VehicleVoice managing partner and AutoPacific president George Peterson contributed to this Detroit News article on vehicle naming. Much of the discussion at this week’s Chicago Auto Show is about name changes around the industry.
A moniker can make a car, but there’s no secret formula
February 9, 2007: Sharon Terlep / The Detroit News
• Ford changed the names of Ford Five Hundred and Mercury Montego to Ford Taurus and Mercury Sable. It also renamed the Freestyle the Taurus X.
• incoln moved to an alphabetical system, Zephyr became MKZ.
• Dodge is replacing the Stratus sedan with the Avenger.
• GM’s Pontiac division is replacing the Grand Prix with the Pontiac G8.
CHICAGO — Cars of the future are supposed to take center stage at auto shows, but it was names from days past that generated some of the biggest buzz in the Windy City this week.
Ford Motor Co.’s decision to revive the Taurus name and give it to its slow-selling Five Hundred sedan, announced this week at the Chicago Auto Show, had journalists, analysts and executives alike critiquing the strategy and wondering whether it would become the latest trend.
It’s not an idle question. Naming vehicles is a major undertaking, with automakers spending millions to cultivate and market each new moniker. The brand equity of mainstays like Civic, Camry and Taurus is valued far beyond that of any high-priced advertising blitz.
And with the U.S. auto market crowded with vastly more models than even a decade ago, finding the right name is more difficult — and more vital — than ever.
“Naming is a big, big deal,” said George Peterson, president of consulting firm AutoPacific Inc., a Tustin, Calif market research and product consulting firm. “You can always argue with the names they use. But you can’t beat a good name.”
Detroit’s Big Three automakers have been criticized for their habit of trying to launch new names to revive tarnished brands rather than sticking with the names and improving the vehicles.
“Even if the car has kind of run its course and started to wane, you’re better off investing in marketing the current product than coming up with a brand new name,” said Karl Brauer, editor in chief of Edmunds.com, an online auto shopping site.
Bringing back an old name is a compromise of sorts, offering several benefits over creating new monikers, notably eliminating the need to spend a fortune trying to create brand awareness.
Ford is hardly alone in this back-to-the-future strategy.
DaimlerChrysler AG’s Chrysler Group hauled out its old Avenger name this year for the vehicle replacing its Dodge Stratus sedan.
General Motors Corp.’s Chevrolet resurrected the Malibu name in the late 1990s and Impala in 2000.
The Chevy Camaro and Dodge Charger were gone, but the Charger is back and Camaro is coming.
The allure of old names is growing as some automakers discover that alpha-numeric titles favored by luxury brands don’t work for everybody.
Those almost code-like names are meant to build recognition for the brand rather than the vehicles. And it can work. The mega-success of the 300 sedan put Chrysler back in the spotlight. And Cadillac’s STS, CTS and SRX, helped remake the brand’s image from old and worn to edgy and cool.
Other attempts have been disastrous, however. Honda Motor Co.’s Acura lost an estimated $1.5 billion in sales by renaming its Legend sedan the RL, Peterson said. “The joke was that RL stood for Ruined Legend.”
Reviving old names can backfire, too. If a name is good enough to resurrect, the argument goes, it probably shouldn’t have been buried in the first place.
“You can bring back names from the past,” Brauer said, “but unless the product is good, it’s going to be a short-lived run.”
While many companies tinker with names, Ford’s high-profile financial problems coupled with the Taurus’ iconic status made its move a major attention-grabber. Many at the auto show probed other automakers for hints of similar moves:
• Will Pontiac’s G8 rear-wheel-drive sedan get the Grand Prix name? (No)
• Does Toyota regret going with the xA, xB, xD naming system for its Scion brand? (Not at all)
• What do the folks at Chrysler think about bringing back old names? (Won’t say)
GM product czar Bob Lutz was peppered with name-related questions after the unveiling of the G8 Thursday. Critics have said Pontiac’s letter-number theme drains some of the feeling from a brand meant to trigger an emotional response in drivers.
GM is sticking with the strategy. When asked about Ford’s decision, Lutz said he would not comment on “bringing back a name that was killed for good reason.”
Other Ford rivals declined to speak on the record, while making it clear they thought the idea was misguided.
Ford, however, could very well be vindicated. Most analysts say the Taurus revival makes sense and dealers love the idea. So do drivers who became fans of the Taurus when it redefined the family sedan in the 1980s.
More than 80 percent of consumers recognize Taurus as a Ford product, compared to about 9 percent for the Five Hundred, according to research by Art Spinella of CNW Marketing Research in Bandon, Ore. “Ford did the right thing reviving the Taurus and Sable nameplates,” he wrote in a note about his study.
Just ask consumer Michael Wheatley of Bardstown, Ky.: “Smart move,” he wrote in an e-mail. “Very smart move.”
The official reveal of the new Malibu is a few days away at the 2007 North American International Auto Show, but GM has released first pictures and details. The 2008 Chevrolet Malibu sedan looks to be a solid step forward from the current car, though a five-door Maxx model is not part of the new range. The new look of Malibu ushers in Chevy’s latest family look, but owners will most appreciate the powertrain and interior updates.
VehicleVoice and AutoPacific staffers believe that the new Malibu may be one of the most significant new launches of 2008.
EDITOR’S NOTE – Counterpoint – 2008 Malibu Finally Gives Credit to Chevy Buyers
To be perfectly honest, the 2004 to 2007 Malibu is a homely piece of work. Its dull styling guaranteed that its primary buyers would be fleets looking for the lowest common denominator, cheapest vehicle. While the sedan was homely, the 5-door was ghastly. Good concept based on the European Opel/Vauxhall Signum, Maxx (and Malibu) could have had very appropriate European styling, but for some reason GM’s American management gave American buyers very little credit for taste. Hence the old Malibu and Maxx were designed for the lowest common denominator buyer. The 2008 Malibu promises to change the game.
Back in 2003 (2004 model year), Chevrolet moved the Malibu to the Epsilon platform and added the longer-wheelbase Maxx five-door hatchback. Chevrolet sold roughly twice as many sedans as five-doors, and the Maxx’s odd shape wasn’t well accepted by critics. The 2008MY sedan gets the same 112.3-inch wheelbase the hatchback had used, also the same as platform-mates Pontiac G6 and Saturn Aura. This platform is referred to as Epsilon 2 and is a significant enhancement of that under the 2004-2007MY Malibu.
While the LA Auto Show opens to the public at the beginning of December, Detroit’s North American International Auto Show is also just around the corner, in January 2007. With the holidays, it’ll be here before you know it.
Detroit’s show has long been the most important in North America, in terms of media attendance and coverage as well as industry attention and presence. By comparison, the other U.S. shows are but a blip in the media clip file. But several others claim more consumer attendance, and Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York rank as significant events in the U.S. automotive calendar.
In past years Detroit and Los Angeles started within days of one another, and while manufacturers are drumming up news with the closer Los Angeles show, several strategic announcements are being made about what we’ll see in Detroit as well.
Just this week, the Chrysler Group released sketches of two of its 2007 concept vehicles, the four-door coupe Chrysler Nassau and what looks to be an ultimate Jeep in the TrailHawk. Chevrolet has announced we’ll get our first look at the 2008 Malibu in Detroit (and released a photo of the interior as a tease).
Hyundai announced the Veracruz will be in Detroit, seemingly ages ago (click here
for our Veracruz
story). We’ve already commented on Nissan’s Rogue (and its European sibling Qashqai), scheduled for Detroit as well (click here
). Cadillac will show the updated 2008 CTS, Hummer is rumored to be showing a concept H4 that could take aim at the Wrangler about 2010MY (if they can find a platform), Infiniti may show the G35 coupe, and Mitsubishi will show their Lancer (though we will have a drive review available ahead of the reveal). Though MINI revealed the latest Cooper in Paris in September (click here
for our story), U.S. buyers get their first look in Detroit.
The winner here? You, the consumer, with lots of new products coming down the pipe and exciting new vehicles to see when it comes time for your local auto show, even if you can’t get to the big events.