Adios, Altima HybridBy John O'Dell June 14, 2011
Nissan North America has decided to go without a gas-electric hybrid model in its 2012 Nissan brand lineup. Should anyone care? The automaker quietly has dropped the slow-selling, limited production Nissan Altima Hybrid from its 2012 catalog after five years in the lineup and in an interview spokesman John Schilling said that while the new Infiniti M35 Hybrid will remain, there will be no hybrid model at all for Nissan. at least for next year. That's because the Nissan brand is concentrating its alternative vehicle marketing muscle and money - on the national rollout of the all-electric Nissan Leaf hatchback.
It's a smart idea. The company had always planned to dump the Altima Hybrid's present powertrain at the end of the 2011 model year, when the car is due for a complete redesign. The present system was licensed from Toyota and using a rival's technology had always rankled. That's one reason Nissan only sold the hybrid sedan in California and nine other states that use California's tougher-than-federal vehicle emissions standards. Limiting the market also limited sales, though, and Nissan reportedly never made money with the hybrid. That's always a good reason to dump a model.
Nissan insiders last year were pretty confident that the hybrid system that was developed entirely in-house for use in the Infiniti M35 Hybrid, launched in March as a 2012 model, would find its way into the new Altima. That could still happen but not until the 2013 model year at least. Schilling would not comment on Nissan's plans beyond next year, but did say that because the company now has its own hybrid system it would not be difficult to use it in the Nissan lineup as well as for the Infiniti brand. "There will be a gap," though, before the Nissan brand's advanced technology lineup goes beyond the battery-electric Leaf, he said. "We are focusing on the EV now."
That's good. The primary reason for the hybrid was to help Nissan meet emissions standards in California and a few other states, and the Leaf with no tailpipe emissions at all (those upstream emissions from production of electricity are another thing, but aren't in the automaker's control) is a far better too. Plus, Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn has pretty much staked his career on making EVs successful and the U.S. is a prime market for the Leaf. Why dilute messages in the early stages of EV market development by offering any sort of a fuel efficient, low-emissions alternative?
Nissan also plans to launch three more battery-electric vehicles in the next few years, and you can bet an EVs' $7,500 tax credit that the company isn't going to do anything that hurts their chances. The Altima Hybrid bought a soupcon of sportiness to the otherwise staid hybrid market when it was introduced in late 2006 as an '07 model, but Nissan never pushed it forward. It's death won't make much difference to the company's bottom line and will barely register in the overall hybrid market. But it won't be the last Nissan hybrid. As Ghosn himself acknowledges, there are a lot of people out there who need a vehicle than can go more than 100 miles before it has to be retired for six to eight hours while its batteries are recharged.