Nissan Needs "Interesting" Cars, Wants To Reinvigorate MaximaBy Michelle Krebs January 24, 2008
DETROIT â- Tom Lane, Nissan Motor Co. corporate vice president of the product strategy and product planning division, wasnât much in a mood to mince words when AutoObserver spoke with him at the Detroit auto show. He says Nissan needs more small cars.
More importantly: âI would like to have more interesting small cars.â
Lane bluntly assesses Nissanâs current small-car lineup â- comprised of the Sentra compact and the Versa subcompact -â as merely OK. He calls the Sentra âfairly conventional,â (hard to describe it as anything other) and is even critical of the strong-selling Versa, saying itâs ânot particularly special, conceptually.â
Lane points across the Detroit show aisle to the trendy, upbeat display of BMW AGâs Mini, for the kind of small vehicles heâd like Nissan to have. âMini is the perfect example,â he says. âLots of emotional appeal. A [fuel-efficient] car that seems very right for the times.â
Reviving Maxima's Magic
Lane, an executive who appears to be atypically well-grounded and realistic about his companyâs products and prospects, isnât afraid to agree once high-flying Nissan isnât hitting on all cylinders. Apart from its bordering-on-boring compact-car lineup, he says he also wants Nissan to revive the magic that its Maxima sport sedan once wielded, in the days when the market wasnât overflowing with V6-powered midsize sedans.
He admits Nissanâs governance of the Maxima â- once the companyâs best-known model -â has been a disappointment, and the numbers donât lie: in 2002, Nissan sold 98,502 Maximas, according to data from Edmunds.com. From there, the erosion was steady and painful, to last yearâs 52,574 â- and that number represents a scary drop of more than 17,000 units (nearly 25 percent) from just a year earlier.
|Nissan Maxima's Downslide|
A car that defined the Asian six-cylinder sport sedan when it first appeared as a trim level for the 810 model in 1981 â- and for a long time had that space practically to itself â- has become little more than a footnote in the sales charts. Compared to Maximaâs 50,000-odd deliveries, Honda sold 392,231 Accords in the U.S. last year; BMW, a comparatively bullying 142,490 3 Series.
Some critics say the real troubles began with the seventh-gen (2004) Maxima, whose frumpy, bulbous sheet metal seems at odds with the badgeâs â4-door-sports-carâ history. Lane says reasons for the Maximaâs decline are more manifest -â not the least of which has been the undeniable success of its lower-priced Altima (2007 sales: 284,762), which itself is available with essentially the same sweet VQ-family V6 as the Maxima.
Lane says Nissan plans to immediately reverse the Maximaâs decline.
âThe next generation will be a very, very good car,â he promises, while allaying lingering rumors the car might show up on a rear-drive platform. He plainly says the next Maxima, coming later this year as an â09 model, is front-wheel drive.
Lane says the new Maximaâs styling, sportiness and quality and refinement levels will once again set it apart. He stresses the refinement aspect of Maximaâs brand will be reinforced.
âThe Maxima historically was more refined (than mainstream midsize sedans),â Lane says. And here comes the candor again: âTodayâs car is good, but I donât think itâs all that special.â
Another differentiator: Maxima has been chosen as the model that will launch Nissanâs first new-generation diesel engine â- developed and built by partner Renault S.A. â- for the U.S.
Trouble? Diesel typically has not been considered the engine of choice for âsportyâ cars, and although several manufacturers now are gambling large product-development sums in the effort to dispel that aged perception, it could be considered a leap for the Maxima, whose original brand attributes have been eroded.
Lane is not worried. He says the new 3.0-liter V6 turbodiesel is âexplosive,â and says it is the right choice to once again emphasize the Maximaâs place as Nissanâs flagship car. He says concerns about convincing customers about the âsportinessâ of diesel will be handled through education and awareness.