Nissan spices up Versa hatch in small-car bid
The Versa Note will start at $13,990, before destination charges -- or $2,000 above the sedan's $11,990 base price without destination.
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DETROIT -- Nissan Motor Co. is positioning its redesigned Versa hatchback to go after what it expects to be continued growth in the compact and subcompact segments.
The company unveiled the hatchback at the Detroit auto show today. It is scheduled to arrive at dealerships this spring as a 2014 model, more than a year after retailers began receiving the redesigned Versa sedan.
Nissan plans to market the two Versas separately to capture different demographic groups in the growing small-car market.
The plan begins with a new name for the hatchback, which will now be called the Versa Note, adopting the name used in Japan and Europe.
Nissan product planners believe giving the hatchback its own name will help shoppers see it separately from the sedan.
The Note will start at $13,990, before destination charges -- or $2,000 above the sedan's $11,990 base price without destination. Nissan has not disclosed destination charges for the Note.
The Note has a distinct design, with a more pronounced beltline than the sedan, taillights that evoke Nissan's sporty Juke crossover and curving back side panels.
Nissan also has enhanced the Versa Note and sedan to deliver 40 mpg highway for the first time. The Note will have a new-generation continuously variable transmission, a redesigned air intake system that pulls cooler air from behind the car's front wheel wells and a number of new technologies. Nissan has also made the changes to the 2013 sedan now in production.
The Note will offer heated seats and Nissan's Around View Monitor, a parking aid that originated on Infiniti luxury brand models. It provides a bird's-eye view of the vehicle on the instrument panel display monitor as the vehicle maneuvers into a parking space.
Nissan sold 113,327 Versas last year, a 14 percent increase over 2011, despite lacking the updated hatchback, which is typically the nameplate's most popular body style.
The Versa has become a dominant player in the subcompact segment, outselling rivals such as the Toyota Yaris, Honda Fit, Ford Fiesta and Hyundai Accent by up to two or three to one.
The Kia Soul, with 2012 sales of 115,778, was the top-selling subcompact car in the United States.
Nissan -- responding to consumer shifts -- will market the sedan as the brand's low-price entry point, and offer the Note as a more stylish, higher-end alternative for consumers who are shifting out of more expensive segments.
"The market for small cars is completely changed," says Fred DePerez, Nissan North America's chief marketing manager for the Versa. "Just a few years ago, small cars were just econoboxes. People bought them because it was all they could afford. But you are seeing a growing number of consumers moving to small cars because they are comfortable to drive, roomy and offer good fuel economy and technology.
"We've positioned the Versa Note to attract those customers as they consider the segment."
Other changes to the hatchback include an increase in cargo space and hands-free text messaging, says John Curl, Nissan senior manager for product planning on the car.
"We're enhancing the owner experience in roominess, fuel economy and technology that we didn't have before," Curl says. "Some of this technology is innovative even in the luxury segment. So it's exceptionally innovative in the entry segment."
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