Nissan, the car company last seen in this space unveiling the new Sentra in addition to cratering profits, has a plan to turnaround its business. That involves going upmarket, making an electric crossover, and, uh, betting that there is still a market for sedans.
The problem with Nissan these days isn’t that its cars are poorly constructed or even that they are particularly bad looking, it’s just that fewer and fewer people want to buy them, which means that to get them off dealership lots they have to be heavily discounted, which means that Nissan and its dealers are making less and less money. Profits were down 70% in the second quarter of this year, giving the company its worst sales forecast in over a decade.
Which tracks. I mean, look at Nissan’s lineup and tell me there’s a car or truck there outside of the GT-R or 370Z that you actually care about. (I would also take an NV, but vans can do no wrong.)
Anyway, given all that, it was surprising to read this morning that to battle back, Nissan would be pivoting to ... sedans. Because the sedan market is where the money is these days, as everyone in the industry knows.
Here’s Automotive News, which caught up with some Nissan executives in Los Angeles:
The Sentra, launched in 1982, was Nissan’s second-best-selling vehicle in the U.S. last year, accounting for 213,046 deliveries.
But the Sentra is playing in a shrinking market as Americans migrate to roomier crossovers. Mass-market small cars — mini, subcompact and compact — represented 12.4 percent of the light-vehicle market last year, down from 18.2 percent in 2014.
Even so, Nissan executives insist rumors of the death of the sedan segment are greatly exaggerated. “There is strength in the sedan market,” [David Kershaw, Nissan division vice president of sales and regional operations] said. “We think there’s opportunity in that segment.”
There will be 10 new or refreshed models in the Nissan lineup by 2020, according to Nissan, including said electric crossover. (Maybe one of them might also look like the IMs concept we saw in January.)
Nissan thinks the opportunity, such as it is, is by giving its cars semi-autonomous tech as standard features, and with optional bigger screens, and with various safety technologies like lane-keeping assist and automatic emergency braking, all of which, Automotive News claims, will help it “appeal to the tech-forward youth market,” but to me seem to be a bit like rearranging chairs on the Titanic.
There is also this bit, which made me smile:
“When we developed the interior, we actually targeted the near-luxury competitors,” said Rob Warren, director and chief marketing manager at Nissan. “We said, “Let’s go after Audi ... and Infiniti.’”
This is the kind of thing every automaker like Nissan says to themselves at some point. Going after the Germans and Nissan’s own luxury division is nice in principle but much harder in practice since it takes a while for people’s perceptions to change.
What do you think? How much chance does Nissan have? I haven’t even brought up that whole other thing.