Once the dominant body style in most major automotive markets, sedans sales have experienced erosion in favor of consumers’ preference for crossovers and compact SUVs. That has left the leading global sedan manufacturers in a unique position of competing not only with each other, but within their own model lineups for sales.
“When we originally started designing the next generation of the Altima, it was still the company’s best-selling nameplate in the critical U.S. market, so there wasn’t much pressure to make radical changes,” explained Alfonso Albaisa, senior vice president, Global Design, Nissan Motor Co., Ltd. “Then our own Rogue took off, drawing in new customers unlike anything we’d experienced before. This gave us the opportunity to rethink the Altima outside the traditional sedan design box and create something more exciting and yet more sophisticated.”
Thus, deep into the usual design cycle, teams from four major Nissan design centers – Japan, Europe, U.S. and China – were called together to start working on a compressed timeline to create a new global face for Nissan sedans. Simultaneously, in a nearby studio work was well underway for the stunning Nissan Vmotion 2.0 concept, which became the blueprint for the new Altima.
“The usual sequence for a concept car and production model is to have a little more breathing room between the two so you can gauge public reaction. But with the Altima the schedule was compressed to the benefit of both vehicles through an ongoing exchange of ideas,” said Albaisa.
The other unique aspect of the new Altima design process was driven by the decision to make this generation more of a global vehicle, rather than just U.S.-focused.
Working side by side, the Nissan designers from each market influenced the others, resulting in a design appealing to global customers looking for sophistication, expressivity and sport.
Expressive design for empowered owners
Given the freedom to go bold and go quickly, the designers faced another challenge. In a changing marketplace for midlevel-priced vehicles, who represented the core, loyal sedan buyer? The answer came down to two words – professional and sophisticated.
“Stance is something most people don’t think about but recognize it when they see it. It’s that sense of a car just looking right. The new Altima, the way it sits, just looks right,” added Albaisa.
Once the dimensions and under-the-skin engineering parameters were set, the real work began – draping and fine-tuning the sheet metal in a way that both breaks new ground and also is easily recognized as a Nissan.
Beauty beneath the surface
“Designers are always looking for the ‘wow’ factor when people first see their vehicle, when they open a door and when they sit inside for the first time,” concluded Albaisa. “But what really makes us proud is that the dynamic excitement of the new Altima’s exterior and interior styling is matched – and then some – with its dynamic performance. The sedan game has officially been changed.”