Competitors take Camry, Accord down to size

Smaller import competitors are hoping to nip the edges of Honda and Toyota's mid-sized car sales domination with larger models.

Nissan North America Inc., for example, introduced a redesigned 2002 Altima that is 7.1 inches longer than its predecessor and more than 3 inches longer than the Camry or Accord.

"We had to have bolder styling, more room and a smoother engine to attract people who are entering the mid-size segment before they become (Toyota) Camry and (Honda) Accord loyalists," said Jed Connelly, senior vice president of sales and marketing at Nissan North America. The Altima also offers the most powerful engine in the segment, a 240-hp V-6.

Others are following the lead. Mitsubishi Motor Sales of America Inc. will increase the size of the next-generation Gallant, and Daewoo Motor America Inc. will do the same with the Magnus (the Leganza replacement scheduled for fall 2002).

"We'll be larger for the next Gallant because size sells, and you have to be up with Camry and Accord," said Mike Krebs, director of product strategy for Mitsubishi Motor Sales of America. The Gallant is scheduled to be replaced by 2005 or 2006.

Krebs said Mitsubishi is hoping to attract younger consumers to its brand with cars such as the subcompact Lancer and hope they will move up to the larger Gallant.

"The baby boomers are locked into Honda and Toyota," Krebs said, "so part of our strategy is to go after the younger buyers and get them into our brand."

You can reach Laura Clark Geist at autonews@crain.com

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