Just the other day, Steph wrote about Nissan executive Denis Le Votâ€™s optimism that sedans will rebound from the current doldrums. Only 30 percent of U.S. vehicle sales in August were passenger cars.
Le Vot cited market research suggesting Generation Z loves the body style, as well as interest rate growth that could drive younger buyers towards sedans, as opposed to pricier crossovers.
The Nissan North America chairman mentioned a revamp of Nissanâ€™s â€œcore sedansâ€� by 2020. The first step in that direction involves the venerable Altima, the next generation of which was unveiled in New York earlier this year, adding all-wheel drive, a new available engine, and new tech.
I know, youâ€™re shaking your head right now. Didnâ€™t you just read about this on Monday? Well, thereâ€™s an additional aspect to the story â€“ the timing of Le Votâ€™s quotes.
We mentioned it in our post, but it bears repeating: the Altima goes on sale this fall, with its arrival at dealers just weeks away. In fact, after I write this post, I am going to pack a bag. Iâ€™ll be hopping on a couple airplanes on Wednesday in order to drive the new Altima.
Le Votâ€™s quotes came at an event meant to show off the next Altima, with the first drive for journalists coming a week after he spoke. No coincidence, that â€“ Â it doesnâ€™t matter whether Le Vot brought up the issue himself or was quizzed by attending media. Even if Le Vot didnâ€™t bring up the topic, he had to know the questions were coming.
I know Iâ€™m being Captain Obvious here, but this isnâ€™t the first time Iâ€™ve encountered an OEM talking up the future of the sedan market RIGHT BEFORE it launched a key competitor in the segment.
The last time it happened, I wrote about it.
This isnâ€™t to pick on Nissan or Honda. Itâ€™s understandable from a business perspective â€“ if you put a positive spin on the segment, it makes it more attractive to buyers. The execs may even believe the hype â€“ Iâ€™m not saying Nissanâ€™s research isnâ€™t accurate or wasnâ€™t conducted in good faith.
So, Nissanâ€™s research may be on point, and itâ€™s not shocking Le Vot would interpret it in the most favorable way possible, considering the Altima’s importance to Nissan and the fact it goes on sale soon.
But as we already noted, it doesnâ€™t make him (or other execs and analysts who predict a sedan recovery) right. At worst, itâ€™s spin designed to drum up sales, and at best itâ€™s an educated guess that could easily turn out to be wrong.
I write this because one must be somewhat skeptical about OEM pronouncements about any segment, not just one thatâ€™s down in the dumps, especially when an OEM is poised to launch something new. That’s not to say any and all OEM pronouncements are bullshit, just that context must be considered.
Le Vot may be a true believer, and as a sedan fan I hope heâ€™s right. But thereâ€™s always the chance heâ€™s fallen into the trap of wishful thinking.
We all do it. We are a species that mixes logic and reason with emotion, and itâ€™s understandable that if we want a positive outcome, and thereâ€™s reliable data that suggest we might get that outcome, that weâ€™re going to seize upon it and ignore the fact that other, less favorable outcomes remain possible. Aside from any personal pro-sedan bias he may or may not have, Le Vot has an obvious stake in sedan success. And as a public â€œfaceâ€� for the brand, he is trying to use the media to get the message across.
That message: â€œSedan sales have hit bottom, theyâ€™re going to go back up, and oh by the way, weâ€™re launching a new Altima right, just as we think the market will turn. Donâ€™t get stuck in a crossover three years from now when all the cool kids are back in sedans. Would you like to test drive that Altima I just mentioned?â€�
Itâ€™s not just the message, though. Again, itâ€™s the timing.
Only time will tell if Le Vot is correct, and only a test drive or two will tell if the Altima and itsÂ variable compression four-cylinder are any good. In the meantime, the rest is just conjecture. Words matter, but talk is often, as we know, cheap. The rest of the story isnâ€™t yet told, and any OEMs’ attempts to write it are premature.