Nissan Needs "Interesting" Cars, Wants To Reinvigorate Maxima

By Michelle Krebs January 24, 2008

By Bill Visnic Nissan_versa_216

DETROIT –- Tom Lane, Nissan Motor Co. corporate vice president of the product strategy and product planning division, wasn’t 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: “I would like to have more interesting small cars.”

Nissan_sentra_facing_right_180 Lane bluntly assesses Nissan’s current small-car lineup –- comprised of the Sentra compact and the Versa subcompact -– as merely OK. He calls the Sentra “fairly conventional,” (hard to describe it as anything other) and is even critical of the strong-selling Versa, saying it’s “not particularly special, conceptually.”

Lane points across the Detroit show aisle to the trendy, upbeat display of BMW AG’s Mini, for the kind of small vehicles he’d like Nissan to have. “Mini is the perfect example,” he says. “Lots of emotional appeal. A [fuel-efficient] car that seems very right for the times.”

Reviving Maxima's Magic

Lane, an executive who appears to be atypically well-grounded and realistic Nissan_maxima_facing_left_180 about his company’s products and prospects, isn’t afraid to agree once high-flying Nissan isn’t 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 wasn’t overflowing with V6-powered midsize sedans.

He admits Nissan’s governance of the Maxima –- once the company’s best-known model -– has been a disappointment, and the numbers don’t lie: in 2002, Nissan sold 98,502 Maximas, according to data from Edmunds.com. From there, the erosion was steady and painful, to last year’s 52,574 –- 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
YearMakeModelTotal_Volume
2002NissanMaxima98,502
2003NissanMaxima86,758
2004NissanMaxima76,367
2005NissanMaxima75,425
2006NissanMaxima69,763
2007NissanMaxima52,574

Source: Edmunds.com

A car that defined the Asian six-cylinder sport sedan when it first appeared as a trim level for the 810 model in 1981 –- and for a long time had that space practically to itself –- has become little more than a footnote in the sales charts. Compared to Maxima’s 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 badge’s “4-door-sports-car” history. Lane says reasons for the Maxima’s decline are more manifest -– 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 Maxima’s decline.

“The next generation will be a very, very good car,” 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 ’09 model, is front-wheel drive.

Lane says the new Maxima’s styling, sportiness and quality and refinement levels will once again set it apart. He stresses the refinement aspect of Maxima’s brand will be reinforced.

“The Maxima historically was more refined (than mainstream midsize sedans),” Lane says. And here comes the candor again: “Today’s car is good, but I don’t think it’s all that special.”

Diesel Differentiator

Another differentiator: Maxima has been chosen as the model that will launch Nissan’s first new-generation diesel engine –- developed and built by partner Renault S.A. –- for the U.S.

Trouble? Diesel typically has not been considered the engine of choice for “sporty” 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 “explosive,” and says it is the right choice to once again emphasize the Maxima’s place as Nissan’s flagship car. He says concerns about convincing customers about the “sportiness” of diesel will be handled through education and awareness.

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SAAB95JD says: 2:47 PM, 01.24.08

I like the idea of the diesel. In the '80's you could get a inline 6-cyl diesel in a RWD Datsun Maxima...

tony says: 10:06 AM, 01.25.08

I would hope the new Maxima isn't front drive. With all of that torque going to the front wheels, torque steer would be a big issue. If they aren't going to make it RWD, they should make it AWD.

dan says: 8:42 PM, 01.26.08

I owned a maxima 2002 SE automatic. By far the model was a top gun family sedan, all I needed was AWD and I would have kept it for life. I eventually gave it up because other manufacturers began to offer AWD in their sedans. Why has Maxima waited so long for this option when Infinity has had it for a couple of years in their sedans?
the 2002 model vrs the 2004, is like going backwards, the 02 design is still fresh, sporty and different while the 2004 looked old the moment the car went out of dealerships.
Was Nissan trying to go for the 45 to 55 yr old market??

dan says: 8:43 PM, 01.26.08

I owned a maxima 2002 SE automatic. By far the model was a top gun family sedan, all I needed was AWD and I would have kept it for life. I eventually gave it up because other manufacturers began to offer AWD in their sedans. Why has Maxima waited so long for this option when Infinity has had it for a couple of years in their sedans?
the 2002 model vrs the 2004, is like going backwards, the 02 design is still fresh, sporty and different while the 2004 looked old the moment the car went out of dealerships.
Was Nissan trying to go for the 45 to 55 yr old market??

Dale says: 6:08 PM, 01.27.08

Yeah, I really think that RWD or AWD would be the way to go. A 3.0 litre diesel powerplant would prouduce too much torque for the front wheels alone. I say, make the Maxima big, RWD and powerful (maybe stick a V8 under it's hood). The Altima 3.5 is sporty and comfortable and the G35 is sporty and refined. The can't have another refined, sporty sedan that is so close to both the Altima's and the G35's price brackets. They need to differentiate this car from those cars by making it different. This is why I say, they should make it a large, rwd sedan with big power (V8). Nissan offers quality vehicles, so they don't have to go overboard in the refinement department (this will only cannibalize it with the G35 being around).

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