August 2011 Sales Up 14.9 Percent
It looks like the 2012 Nissan Versa is picking up right where the old one left off: Backed by an all-new sedan model that remains the least-expensive mainstream car in America, the ’12 Versa jumped right to the top of the subcompact sales chart in its first full month on sale. It’s an especially notable feat, because unlike the situation during most of calendar year 2010, when the segment was primarily populated by older models, today’s subcompact entries include a number of completely redesigned next-gen players like the Ford Fiesta (which went on sale in the second half of 2010), Hyundai Accent and Kia Rio.
In addition, the fresh crop of compacts—including the Chevy Cruze, Honda Civic, Hyundai Elantra and Ford Focus—has likely been stealing customers from the subcompact segment as well, thanks to significantly higher levels of quality offered by the post-meltdown versions of those popular vehicles.
First Month for New Versa
Now, as a result of these new market conditions - and the fact that the previous-generation model had been carrying the load for the first seven months of this year and the fact that this year’s numbers are being compared to last year’s record-breaking mark - the Nissan Versa’s sales do remain down by 14.2 percent through August. In August itself, however, Nissan’s mighty mite saw deliveries jump by 14.9 percent, representing 8,061 sales, and that was enough to both win the segment outright last month and pass the Fiesta in terms of year-to-date volume.
The Versa’s August/YTD numbers stood at 8,566/59,811, with the Fiesta coming in at 5,833/53,258. At this stage, do I really need to point out that the MSRP of the Versa is $2,210 less than that of the Ford? Or that, coming at things from the other direction, the Fiesta is over 20 percent more expensive than the Nissan?
(A minor side note: The Versa even outsold the Kia Soul in August, and the South Korean urban activity vehicle—which is the size of a subcompact although it’s not usually lumped into the segment for sales purposes—has topped the five-digit mark a number of times in past months).
Nissan’s Noteworthy Car Lineup
The ongoing success of the Versa has created an odd “good news, bad news” scenario for Nissan. The bad news is that it’s the only mainstream automaker with a subcompact that outsells its compact, which, of course, isn’t bad in and of itself but because it reflects how poorly the Nissan Sentra is doing with customers, at least when you look at volume.
Nissan’s compact actually has had fairly strong year-to-date growth, with sales up 28.7 percent through August, but deliveries dropped 1.8 percent last month, when the company only moved 8,061 units. Further, because the compact class attracts a much larger pool of customers, the Sentra trails the segment’s sales leaders by a much much wider margin than the subcompacts trail the Versa. The next step up on the compact sales ladder from the Sentra is the Civic, which, for all Honda’s troubles, still managed a bit over 12,000 sales last month. But the top-selling compact, the Cruze, owned a 13,750-unit lead over the Sentra in August alone, and the Chevy has surpassed the Sentra’s year-to-date total by well over 88,345 sales. Clearly then, as impressive as the Versa has been in the subcompact segment, the Sentra has been that degree worse—and then some—competing against the mainstream compacts.
Now we can get on to the “good news” part of the story, which is that Nissan is the only automaker in the U.S. to have the entire heart of its car roster, including subcompact, compact and mid-size entries, among the top 20 best-selling cars in America last month.
Gaining Altitude with the Altima
Yep, the Nissan Altima is having a rather robust year in 2011 with sales up 24.2 percent last month and 18.3 percent on a year-to-date basis at volumes of 23,016 and 176,198, respectively. Those numbers were enough to make the Altima the second-best-selling car in the country both in August and through August. Again, that’s a relatively surprising outcome when you remember the strong competition the Altima has to face from the likes of the Toyota Camry, Hyundai Sonata, Chevy Malibu, Ford Fusion and Honda Accord, to name just a few.
Things soon will get even tougher for the Altima due to Toyota’s new pricing strategy with the all-new 2012 Camry. With price cuts across its four-cylinder lineup, including to its hybrid models, the Camry is suddenly going to present a nearly Hyundai-esque value proposition in the mid-size segment, with a low price, high fuel-economy marks, excellent interior and unexpectedly peppy acceleration. In other words, unless there’s some kind of true breakthrough coming with the next-gen 2013 Altima—slated to launch early next year—it’s hard to see Nissan gaining much more than incremental volume increases going forward in the mid-size segment.
Will Nissan Have the Last Laugh with the Leaf?
Nissan’s recent track record in the U.S. has been somewhat puzzling. It’s still the only mainstream automaker that hasn’t launched a new-school, post-meltdown version of a core product—the Versa showcases more of an improvement of degree, not kind—yet it trails only the Detroit Three in market share gains this year. Yes, I know the disasters in Japan had a bigger impact on operations at Toyota and Honda than at Nissan, but I think that did more to hold down sales of the former pair than proactively boost sales of the latter.
Really, the largest change in what’s happening at Nissan has been the launch of the Nissan Leaf. The Leaf’s consistent ability to move nearly 1,500 units per month may be disguising its more significant ability to generate buzz—and more sales—for the Nissan lineup as a whole.