MINNEAPOLIS – Nissan North America Inc. officials say the ’08 Altima coupe, set to hit dealerships Memorial Day, will attract an entirely different buyer than the recently launched, redesigned Altima sedan.

Referring to the coupe segment as “almost selfish transportation,” John Curl, regional product manager-Altima, says the new coupe targets buyers in their 20s and 30s that are “probably single without kids.”

“A coupe has a very special way of saying something about the driver, and the Altima coupe is a very attention-getting vehicle,” Curl says at a media event here.

“We feel this car will be very appealing to empty-nesters who are looking for something extra to give them some more self expression in their lives, after years of driving sedans or minivans or whatever,” he says, adding that despite a slight downturn, the coupe segment is alive and well.

“Some think (the coupe segment is) shrinking,” he says. “Our feeling is it’s shrinking not because there aren’t people out there that want to buy the cars, but because the cars that are out there are not very interesting or not very good.”

The coupe, which shares no major body panels with the Altima sedan except for the hood, will carry a base price of $20,990 and top out at about $30,000, Nissan says. Prices do not include a $625 destination charge.

Two engine choices will be available – a 2.5L inline 4-cyl., producing 175 hp and 180 lb.-ft. (244 Nm) of torque, and a 3.5L V-6 that cranks out 270 hp and 258 lb.-ft. (350 Nm) of torque.

It will be offered with either a 6-speed manual or a continuously variable transmission with manual mode.

The Altima coupe rides on a modified version of the sedan’s platform, with the wheelbase trimmed by 4 ins. (10.2 cm) and a shortened rear overhang, which Nissan says, “gives it a total dimensional difference of about 7.3 ins. (18.5 cm) than the sedan.”

Nissan also lowered the roofline 2.3 ins. (5.8 cm).

The Altima’s chassis, says Doug Betts, senior vice president-total customer satisfaction, is one of the best in the business, all but eliminating torque steer associated with front-wheel-drive vehicles.

“What you’re not going to feel is torque steer when you take off,” Betts says. “The only evidence it’s a FWD car is the smoke coming from the front rather than the back when you take off.”

The coupe’s body resembles the Altima sedan but is more reminiscent of the uplevel Infiniti G35.

Curl is hesitant to say the Altima coupe was patterned after the G35, but he does say consumer workshops revealed customers love the G35’s design.

“We found that everyone loved the G35 coupe, but many people don’t have the means to afford an Infiniti vehicle,” he says. “We wanted to make a coupe that was very attractive, maybe along the same type of lines the G35 sedan did with its coupe. We wanted to do the same thing with the Altima brand.”

Curl says Nissan has “well over” 1,000 dealer orders already for the coupe but does not provide an annual sales forecast, only saying, “we’ll build as many as people want.”

The ’08 Altima coupe’s primary competition is the Honda Accord coupe, Mitsubishi Eclipse and Toyota Solara, which is rumored to be on the chopping block.

When asked why no domestic coupes are listed as Altima competitors, Curl says data shows domestics rarely are cross-shopped by Asian buyers.

“There is some with (Ford) Mustang, but I’m not sure how much. The (Pontiac) G6 may also have some cross consideration.”

The Altima coupe is being built at Nissan’s Smyrna, TN, plant, where a smooth launch is expected.

“The Altima (sedan) launch is probably the best we’ve had in North America for a Nissan product, and we’re building on that within the Smyrna facility with the coupe,” says William Krueger, senior vice president of the Americas-manufacturing, purchasing and supply chain management.

bpope@wardsauto.com