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Nissan Intends to Lead the Mid-Size Sedan Segment with Redesigned Altima

April 15, 2014

Nissan has been trailing behind rivals Toyota and Honda in the mid-size sedan segment, and now it aims to finally take the lead by taking inspiration from yet another rival—Hyundai.

Sonata, Hyundai’s mid-size sedan, barely made waves in the segment dominated by Toyota’s Camry and Honda’s Accord. That was until the South Korean carmaker opted for a design change. Once the new Sonata with the attention-grabbing styling rolled out into showrooms in 2009, the game had changed. Hyundai’s car became worthy competition to the aforementioned nameplates by attracting more customers and selling well.

Nissan paid attention to the transformation, and is now taking a page from Hyundai’s book to improve the Altima. Nissan global design chief Mamoru Aoki is aware that sedans do not make as big an impact in the market as other vehicles, which is why he is planning a new and improved design for the brand’s mid-size sedan.

He specifically wants the Altima to lead the segment. “Catching up with the Accord and Camry is not enough,” he said in an interview.

While Aoki’s main concern in redesigning the Altima was how to make the sedan a serious contender in its segment, he also needed to consider how the design will further the brand in general. Nissan has lagged behind other Japanese automakers, and the brand needs something to push it ahead of the pack. Aoki hoped that a more dramatic styling will do the trick.

The new design that Aoki came up with will be seen at the upcoming New York auto show. The brand’s latest design language will be introduced to the public through the third-generation Nissan Murano, which is said to have a more chiseled and aerodynamic appearance that resembles the Resonance concept unveiled at the 2013 Detroit auto show.

Though a crossover will be premiering the new look, Aoki insists that the main focus of the redesign are the sedans. The styling revamp was done with the brand’s family cars as the priority.

While the Altima was the sales leader in the mid-size sedan segment in February, the Camry took the lead again in March. Altima did better than the Accord in the first quarter: Nissan sold 89,285 units while Honda sold 79,188 units. Unfortunately, the Camry outsold both with 94,283 units.

Aoki knows the brand needs to take a huge risk if it wants big results. “It’s one big jump, like what Hyundai and Kia did last time. That kind of jump.” He seeks to have the fresher styling—or at least certain elements of it—adopted in Nissan’s lineup by 2017.

Aoki has held the global design chief post since 2010. He was responsible for the design of vehicles such as the 2002 Nissan 350Z coupe and 2004 Infiniti M sedan.

Aoki will surely be paying attention to the New York auto show, where the latest mid-sized sedans from Nissan’s rivals will be revealed. Hyundai will be introducing a more sophisticated and re-engineered Sonata, while Toyota will premiere the Camry which has undergone a midcycle improvement.

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