It was an unexpected moment in auto sales history last month when Nissan’s Altima outsold the Toyota Camry and the Honda Accord.
It has never happened. And in fact, in the long run, it might not happen too many more times in the future.
Not because the Altima is a less competitive car. A simple glance at the sales numbers will testify that it’s as competitive as anyone pleases.
The longer-term issue is factory capacity. Toyota and Honda have the manufacturing muscle to build 400,000 Camrys and Accords a year. Nissan does not.
Nissan has two assembly lines building the Altima -- one in Tennessee and one in Mississippi. Combined, the plants can give Nissan about 300,000 Altimas a year, or 25,000 to 30,000 a month.
In March, with built-up inventories and a good tailwind in Nissan’s marketing, dealers moved 32,289 Altimas.
In the same month three years earlier, Altima sold 31,000 and change. But in perspective, Toyota sold more than 40,000 Camrys that month. And one year before that, the Camry sold more than 42,000 -- a rate of more than half a million a year, if it kept the pace up for 12 months.
If Nissan wants to play at that volume, it’s going to need more factory capacity.