LOS ANGELES - Nissan might delay the launch of its redesigned 2006 Sentra because test groups don't like the way it looks.
Meanwhile, company insiders say Nissan plans to export to the United States a car smaller than the Sentra.
The new Sentra has not fared well with focus groups in this country, according to company and supplier sources.
"It just doesn't go far enough in terms of appeal," says a Nissan source who did not want to be identified. "They're talking about going back to the drawing board."
The new version is scheduled to go on sale next summer. The small economy car is Nissan's No. 2 seller in the United States and is the main product for young buyers.
"We have it down as delayed," says Michael Robinet, vice president of global forecast services for CSM Worldwide in Northville, Mich., which tracks automakers' future product plans.
The new Sentra will share a platform with the Renault Megane II, a compact sedan that has been received well in Europe. But sources say focus groups here think the new Sentra's styling is bland.
The Nissan source said the company also is scrambling to get a vehicle smaller than Sentra to the United States by 2007.
Nissan has discussed selling the successor to the small, boxy Japan-market Cube in this country. But the source says other possibilities are being considered because the Cube may be too small and underpowered for U.S. drivers. The current Cube is rated at only 98 hp and is 154 inches long.
One alternative is the Tiida, which goes on sale in Japan in fall. The Tiida is 165.6 inches long and will be powered by 1.5 liter and 1.8-liter inline four-cylinder engines.
Nissan's Tilda, which debuts in Japan this fall, may come to the United States.
The 126-hp Sentra, the smallest Nissan sedan sold in the United States, is 177.5 inches long.
"Nissan is absent from the minicar segment and needs to be there," Robinet says. "I'm sure in the next couple of years you'll see them there on a broader scale."