As chief product specialist for the Nissan Altima, Masami Yagata knew it would be a formidable challenge to create a bigger, better mid-sized sedan without compromising its luxurious Maxima sibling. So as he strove to make the Altima better, the mantra 'Yagata have faith' became a rallying cry for Nissan's product developers.
He spoke with Automotive News Staff Reporter Mark Rechtin at the Altima launch in Monterey, Calif., about those challenges.
Was winning the horsepower war part of Altima's development?
The horsepower number itself was not an issue. I wanted the four-cylinder Altima to have similar handling, ride and sportiness to the previous 190-hp Maxima, which had an exciting character. The intake air system and exhaust timing devices meant a good balanced power curve, so the four-cylinder could feel like the previous V-6.
What were your benchmarks in creating the Altima?
Honda Accord, Audi A4, Toyota Camry, VW Passat, and also the Chevy Lumina and Ford Taurus. But in finding a good balance for the vehicle, the Volkswagen was best in terms of hardware, performance and engineering. In terms of things like road noise, we wanted to be as good as the next-generation Camry and Accord. Sometimes we also grabbed pieces from the BMW 3 and 5 series.
How do you protect the old Maxima until the next one arrives in 18 months?
We have to clarify the Altima and Maxima customers and see what the key factors are that satisfy those groups. For instance, what feels sporty may be different for the Altima customer and the Maxima customer. The Maxima is the stronger brand, so we'll use the SE model to provide the pleasurable, sporty feel. The Altima will be a long-range volume seller, a mid-sized sedan with a special and unique feel. But we cannot forget the Maxima in terms of design and luxury. We did not sacrifice Altima performance to protect Maxima.
What will the next Maxima be like?
The new platform is more flexible, and there's a four-wheel-drive variant available. We know that sportiness is key to Maxima's heritage, and we will not lose that feel. There will be a more pleasurable feel of sportiness with luxury. We have to move up.