IRVINE, CA – The market for large, front-wheel-drive sedans has cooled significantly since the glory days of the 1980s and 1990s, but that decline, largely brought about by bigger, better-appointed midsize sedans, isn’t givingsecond thoughts about staying in the segment.
The next-generation Maxima’s debut next year in the U.S. is “a no-brainer,” a topexecutive says.
“Maxima is a big (profit) driver for us in North America, but probably more importantly it is one of the key drivers to the brand, so it was never really a debate (whether to do another Maxima),” Andy Palmer, executive vice president-Nissan, tells WardsAuto in an interview here.
Sales of the 5-year-old, current-generation model predictably have slowed as it has aged.
Deliveries through August were down 22.1% to 31,479 units. The top-seller among mass-market competitors in the same period was the Chevrolet Impala with 109,571, although that tally represents a decline of 12.3% from like-2012.
Sales reached an all-time record 131,182 units in 1999, aided by flashy TV commercials showing the fourth-generation Maxima understeering on wet roads in fading sunlight set to pop music.
While the car once was considered on par with the Impala, its price has increased in recent years, enough that WardsAuto classifies it as a Lower Luxury model.
The ’14 Maxima begins at $31,000 for a base S grade, just $1,550 less than the ’14 G37 from luxury sister-brand Infiniti.
If sneak-peek images of the concept are any indication, expect a continuation of a more premium positioning for the Maxima, which originated as the Datsun 810 in the U.S. in 1977. The ’15 model will be the eighth generation of the car since the Maxima name was adopted in 1980.
“If you saw a little bit of an image of the concept car, it does look gorgeous,” Palmer says of the swoopy, coupe-like design shown in teaser images.
Nissan’s biggest concern with the Maxima isn’t the shrinking market for large cars in the U.S., but rather how to expand its sales to countries where such vehicles are growing in popularity.
“The only debate that probably comes and is pushed over from my bosses is, ‘Where else can you sell Maxima?’” Palmer says. Russia and the Middle East are the most likely options.
Nissan already exports a similar car, the Teana, which rides on the current Maxima’s D platform to those regions, as well as Latin America and Southeast Asia.
In Australia and New Zealand, the Teana uses the Maxima name but is more similar to the U.S. Altima.
Overall, Palmer is happy with the Nissan brand’s performance in the U.S. this year and sees more upside for the fourth quarter. Nissan sales through August were up 12.2% to 782,369 units.
Brand market share rose two percentage points in the period from year-ago, to 7.4%. Total Nissan share, including Infiniti, stood at 8.1% through August. Nissan has a 10% share goal for the U.S. by 2016.
“This year has been a terrific point of growth, (but) you haven’t seen so big an impact yet coming from the Versa Note,” Palmer says of the subcompact 5-door, which was redesigned for ’14 and is arriving in larger numbers at U.S. dealers as fall approaches.
The B-car, along with its 4-door Versa variant, is one of Nissan’s biggest sellers in the U.S and the No.1-selling model in its segment.
Nissan next year launches the next-generation of another high-volume model, the Rogue CUV.
Sales of the Versa/Versa Note and Rogue stood at 82,759 and 113,316 units, respectively, through August.