Nissan Motor, seeking to outsell Honda Motor in the pivotal US market, unveiled a new Maxima sedan at the New York International Auto Show that may also draw customers from premium brands.
The 2016 Maxima, a sleek, sporty four-door, goes on sale this summer, starting at $32,410 (Rs 20 lakh approx) $1,120 (Rs 70,000 approx) more than the current base model. The new Maxima will come in five trim levels, including a premium Platinum model for $40,000 (Rs 24.7 lakh approx).
Japan's second-largest automaker is looking for the new Maxima to build on the success of the brand's crossover utility vehicles in boosting sales volumes and competing for the high-end customers.
The new Maxima is lower, longer and lighter, Chief Executive Officer Carlos Ghosn said in an interview. It is 82 pounds (37 kgs) lighter, making the 300-horsepower car fuel efficient.
Ghosn said he isn't concerned with how Nissan does against other automakers. Though, Jose Munoz, Nissan's head of North American operations, said he expects to beat Honda every month.
Last year, Nissan cut its deficit to Honda almost in half, boosting its sales 11 per cent to 1.39 million while its rival's sales rose just 1 per cent to 1.54 million. Nissan has gained ground on the strength of its Rogue, sales of which jumped 28 per cent through March after rising 22 per cent in 2014. Cars have also helped: Nissan's Altima was the fourth best-selling car in the US last year, topping Honda's Civic.
However, John Mendel, executive VP of Honda's US sales unit is of the opinion that much of Nissan's progress has come by selling to rental-car companies and other fleet buyers. Such bulk sales are less profitable for the automaker and can inflate volumes at the expense of profit.
Nissan said fleet purchase as a percent of sales have declined this year while fleet sales for the industry have increased. Nissan's US fleet sales in March fell 17 per cent, Munoz told journalists in New York. For the first three months of 2015, they fell four per cent. Nissan's growth has been based on retail sales, he said. Ghosn added that his goal is reaching at least 10 per cent market share, regardless of what Honda does.
The Maxima should give at least a short-term spark to Nissan's refurbished lineup in a full-size sedan segment that's fallen out of favor with consumers, Michelle Krebs, senior analyst at AutoTrader.com, said in an interview. "I suspect Maxima will do well initially. Something new captures some market share but it doesn't grow the segment, and newness doesn't last long," Krebs said.