Moving old Altimas will take some quick footwork

Nissan's challenge won't be selling the new Altima; it will be clearing out the 2012 models this month as they sit there, new and old, side by side.
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NASHVILLE -- The next couple of weeks will be tense ones for Nissan retailers, owing to the expected appeal of the 2013 Altima. The nervousness will be over whether Nissan engineers and planners did too good a job redesigning the car.

Nissan is eager to clear out the remaining inventory of 2012 Altimas to make way for a new Altima that is being pitched as superior on several fronts -- fuel economy, electronic features, seating comfort and noise levels. Automakers are always eager to do this when a redesigned model comes to market, of course. But here's the twist: Except for the low-volume base model, the new and improved Altima is roughly the same price as the outgoing model.

Nissan shoppers will find a 2013 2.5 SV Altima that gets 38 mpg highway and NASA-influenced seat designs for $40 more than last year's model. The 2.5 S model is actually $210 cheaper now than it was in 2012.

So the challenge won't be selling the new one; it will be clearing out the old ones this month as they sit there, new and old, side by side.

Nissan has been doing what it must to clear the pipes as the redesigned car arrives in showrooms, with incentives, higher fleet sales and a green light to dealers to move more Altimas into their own rental car inventories. Action Nissan in Nashville last week advertised 2012 Altimas with leases of $99 a month.

Colin Dodge, chairman of Nissan Americas, acknowledged a few weeks ago that Altima fleet sales were going to be high to empty the lots of 2012s. But fleet sales "will drop immediately when the new Altima is launched," Dodge told a group of international analysts.

There was nothing wrong with the old Altima. Sales stayed strong even as Nissan began releasing ads showing off the new and improved one in spring. Nissan had one U.S. factory running overtime to continue pumping out old Altimas as a second U.S. factory began shipping the first new Altimas. That means there are still a fair number of 2012s on the market as dealers roll out the 2013s.

Nissan isn't worried in the least about the '13. Its only challenge for the next few weeks will be helping customers see the value in an old model as a better model arrives looking like a bargain.

You can reach Lindsay Chappell at lchappell@crain.com.

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