In the midsize sedan segment, the Toyota Camry is traditionally the best-seller, but Nissan turned to the Hyundai Sonata for design inspiration with the new 2013 Altima, according to WardsAuto. In fact, Nissan briefly stopped development in order to size up the competition from Hyundai.
“Clearly, we referenced the Sonata when we were going through the design process,” Nissan executive vice president of global planning and marketing Andy Palmer told WardsAuto. “We even delayed development by a short amount just to check that the [new Altima’s] proportions were right, the [package] was right, [and that] the product overall was right.”
Hyundai’s sleek sixth-generation Sonata wowed audiences with its aggressive styling when it debuted for model-year 2011. While the Hyundai styling influence isn’t immediately apparent in the new Altima, both cars share a similarly raked roofline. Regarding Hyundai and the Sonata’s design, Palmer said to WardsAuto, “I’d say they are our major point of reference.”
Though the Sonata sold more than 200,000 units in the U.S. last year, it still trails behind the 300,000-plus annual sales typical of the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry. Because of this, Hyundai’s midsizer served merely as a styling yardstick for Nissan to measure the Altima against. The real goal, according to Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn, was to beat the sales-leading Camry – which helps explain why the Japanese automaker didn’t go all the way in matching the Sonata’s aggressive design.
“It’s Camry that is in our sights, [and] the target market is, relatively speaking, conservative,” Palmer said to WardsAuto.” The executive says the American midsize sedan customer is “clearly looking for a vehicle with elegance, but not so showy.”
Last month, the 2012 Nissan Altima was the number-two best-selling midsize car in the U.S., at 41,050 units sold. Though the Altima isn’t far behind the Camry’s 42,567 sales for the month, Nissan is currently the number-three best-selling Japanese brand in the U.S. behind Honda and Toyota.
“[The Altima] was always a bridesmaid to the Accord,” Palmer told WardsAuto. “It’s not any more.”