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”.
“On the heels of an AutoPacific Owner Recommendation Award, the Toyota Camry wins a Motorist Choice Award in the Premium Mid-Size Car segment. The mid-size car by which others are measured, Camry exudes a comforting sense of predictability. Owners gave it top marks for reputation, dependability and safety.” – AutoPacific
“The Camry has best-in-segment ownership costs with the best retained value in the segment and lowest insurance costs.” – IntelliChoice
Owner Satisfaction Highlights
• Vehicle and Brand Reputation
• Feeling Safe While Driving
• Overall Quality
• Durable / Long Lasting
• Interior and Exterior Styling
• Best-in-Segment Ownership Costs
• Best Retained Value
• Lowest Insurance Costs
In September 2007, the eighth-generation 2008 Honda Accord sedan and coupe go on sale, bearing a look previewed by the 2007 Detroit show’s Accord Coupe Concept. The standard for premium mid-size sedans has rested with the Accord and Toyota’s Camry for many years, as clearly as the BMW 3-Series is the luxury sport sedan to beat. Last year, the Accord accounted for 354,500 of the 1.3 million cars and trucks Honda sold in the United States. Beyond the volume it brings, Honda’s Accord carries much company history. The Accord was the first car Honda built in the States, starting twenty-five years ago, and the first Japanese product to be built in the USA.
The third-generation, launched for 1986, showed us we could have a smart and savvy midsize sedan instead of a simply boring one. The third-generation Accord had a very low cowl and pop-up headlamps – very sporty for a Mid-Size Car of its day. The following fourth-generation car took Accord in a more elegant, upscale direction. Then, Accord began to struggle a bit.
Along the way, Accord never lost its rational element, but stylish, fun-to-drive elements were watered down. For 2008, Honda looks to revive that image with the eighth-generation Accord and raise the bar against the sporty and stylish Nissan Altima
and the finally expressive segment icon Camry.
Honda targets Altima and Camry directly, but competition also includes Saturn Aura, Ford Fusion, Hyundai Sonata, and even Chrysler’s Sebring and Dodge Avenger. Chevrolet’s latest Malibu goes on sale later this year with a stronger, more modern exterior and a much-improved interior. In a hotly contested market, Honda is looking to again provide buyers the
smart, stylish, fun-to-drive option. Honda also is looking for sales above the 400,000-unit mark, something Accord hasn’t seen since 2001.
We had the chance for a short drive following a presentation of the new bread-and-butter car. Honda has brought another terrific mid-size sedan, but we’re not convinced the bar is raised significantly. We didn’t have a chance to drive the coupe, but the two-door brings style to Accord’s coupe line that hasn’t been seen before. The Accord coupe should hold its own from an image standpoint against coupes in the Nissan Altima and Pontiac G6 ranges.
Most competing brands offer a mid-size and a larger sedan (Avalon, Maxima, Azera, and Taurus), but Honda’s top model is the Accord. The new Accord is bigger, nearly as long as the Maxima overall and with wheelbase and width nearly the size of the Avalon. The new Accord is about five inches longer than Camry and Altima (only an inch between the axles). The larger exterior allowed for interior space large enough for Accord to be classified as a Large Car in EPA ratings, and Accord now may be better able to straddle the line between mid-size and large.
The current generation (PS41) Mitsubishi Galant has been on the market in the USA since Fall 2003. Designed to be fully competitive with the big dogs in its class – Toyota Camry, Honda Accord and Nissan Altima – Galant is about the size of the Accord, bigger than Camry and Altima (and the Hyundai Sonata). The car feels big for a Mid-Size Car, but size alone does not make for a competitive Mid-Size entry.
Our impression of the Galant is that it is a good basic car beset by too many cost-reductions that could be obvious to the buyer. Where most product planners would lament that they were $50-$100 short of a great car, the Galant planners were probably lamenting of a $500 shortfall. Somehow, the financial community won the product content battle and it’s tough to sell an obviously cost reduced car agaist the likes of Camry and Accord. The last generation Nissan Altima learned that lesson.
Premium Mid-Size Cars – Most Competitive Car Segment
In this most competitive of car segments, a car has to be superb to achieve class-leading status and Galant falls a bit short but it does deserve a look. It is now the oldest of the major competitors in the class. OK, all its major competitors are on a five-year product cycle. Camry was all new for 2007 as was the Altima. The Honda Accord received a major rear end freshening for the 2006 model year. Sonata was all new for 2006. With a normal cycle life, the Galant would be due for a major change in late 2008 as a 2009 model. So a major change for the Galant is not late – yet. Most Asian brands have a moderate mid-cycle freshening to keep interest up, but Galant got a very minor change for the 2007 model year and added the range topping RalliArt version.
We had not driven a Galant at VehicleVoice
since its launch and the intro of the new RalliArt edition gave us the perfect opportunity to see how the Galant has evolved.
There are two Mid-Size Cars that every buyer of a Mid-Size Car has to consider before selecting one of them, or moving on to another – the Honda Accord and the Toyota Camry. These cars are in the consideration set of almost all Mid-Size Car buyers. On a rigid 5-year schedule, Honda is to introduce its all new 2008 Accord in Fall 2007. Honda used the 2007 North American International Auto Show to tip its hand about styling cues for the next generation Accord. it used the Accord Coupe Concept to do this.
Unveiling the Honda Accord Coupe concept did more than ‘wow’ those in attendance at the Detroit Show, it put Toyota on notice. The Accord Coupe Concept telegraphs cues that will be found on the upcoming Honda Accord Sedan.
Accord Has Been Top Selling Car As Recently As 2001, But Not In the Cards Now
The current Toyota Camry, which has been the top-selling passenger car in the USA for several years now and in its latest iteration is Motor Trend’s Car of the Year, will again have a worthy competitor offering consumers a distinctive alternative. In the last 25 years the Accord has sat atop Car and Driver’s 10 Best list all but 4 times. Accord was the top selling car in the USA from 1989 through 1991 and in 2001. The Camry has been the top-seller since it wrested the title away from the 1992 through 1996 king – the Ford Taurus for every year except 2001. Will the 2008 Accord again set the sales benchmark in its segment?
The answer to that question is NO. Accord will not become the sales leader until there is more production capacity added for Accord. At the present time, Toyota can out-produce Accord with its Camry and this is especially true since it began assembling Camrys at Subaru Indiana Automotive.
But back to the Accord Coupe Concept…
Toyota Wins with “America’s Mainstream Car”
part of PRIMEDIA’s (NYSE: PRM) Consumer Automotive Group, announced today that the redesigned Toyota Camry, the sixth edition of America’s best-selling car, is Motor Trend’s 2007 Car of the Year. The award goes to the entire Camry range, including the Camry Hybrid. The complete report on Motor Trend’s 2007 Car of the Year will be published in the January issue, available on newsstands December 5, 2006.
“Creating an innovative, engaging automobile with broad mainstream appeal is one of the toughest tasks facing any automaker,” said Angus MacKenzie, editor in chief of Motor Trend. “The Camry is the one car rival automakers all wish they could build. It offers something for nearly everyone–performance, efficiency, and roominess–at a price point most Americans can afford.”
MacKenzie added, “Toyota offers the Camry with a regular four cylinder engine, or a sporty V-6 that enables it to hit 60mph in just six seconds – that’s about as fast as a V-8 musclecar from the 60s and 70s. Buyers looking for ultimate fuel economy can choose the Camry Hybrid, which uses the same innovative hybrid powertrain technology as Toyota’s Prius to save gas.”
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.
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…