Ask the designers of the all-new Nissan Altima what’s they expect it to achieve and chances are they will confidently say that it will reinvigorate interest in midsize sedans. Once the dominant bodystyle in most major markets, sedan sales have experienced erosion in favour of consumers’ preferences 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 also within their own model line-ups for sales.
“When we originally started designing the sixth generation of the Altima, it was still the company’s best-selling nameplate in the critical US market, so there wasn’t much pressure to make radical changes,” explained Alfonso Albaisa, Senior Vice-President, Global Design, Nissan Motor. “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 4 major Nissan design centres – 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 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 US-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.
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.
“Our studies clearly identified a large group of people who choose sedans over crossovers because they see sedans as more efficient in terms of space and energy – and as vehicles that work equally well with clients as with carpools,” said Albaisa. “We pictured empowered people who want everything in their lives – from homes to offices to fashion to cars – to be functional yet stylish every single day. The all-new Altima is exactly that.”
With this key target consumer mindset in place, a couple of other timely decisions fell into the designers’ laptops. First, the corporate decision to make the Altima a true showcase for the most advanced Nissan Intelligent Mobility technology as well as the major investment in two new engines. And secondly, the decision to give the Altima a new lower, longer, wider platform.
Those two decisions alone enabled a number of critical design choices, starting with the new Altima’s proportions and stance. The lower-profile engines – both the new VC-Turbo and the new 2.5-litre 4-cylinder unit – gave the designers the freedom and space to lower the new Altima’s cowl and bonnet line – which also resulted in a lower instrument panel height and a more open-feeling cabin.
With the more compact engines, not only could the bonnet be lower but the front overhang could also be shortened. At the same time, the rear wheels could be pushed farther to the corners, helping create the sleek, sporty profile. The designers then opened up the wheel wells of the longer, wider body and fitted up to 19-inch wheels and tyres – creating the sporty stance, like a track athlete getting ready to run.
“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.