Industrywide, sedan sales in the U.S. tumbled 11 percent through the first nine months of the year. Even so, Nissan executives contend that lower-cost small cars remain relevant, especially for price-conscious first-time car buyers. Nissan sees opportunity in the sedan market as some U.S. competitors abandon the segment.
To underscore its commitment, Nissan unveiled a redesigned Versa subcompact this summer. It is bigger in proportion, bolder in design and bundled with technology typically found in more upscale vehicles. Meanwhile, a redesigned Nissan Sentra compact is expected to debut at the Los Angeles Auto Show next month.
But just as crossovers have transformed from rugged utility vehicles to feature-rich luxury products, Espinosa expects sedans to evolve.
"We are working on challenging ourselves," he said. "What kind of changes should we bring to this body type to make it more attractive for the buyers?"
Nissan executives in Tokyo said they expect that the impending wave of Gen-Z buyers will lift demand for sedans.
Nissan commissioned research that shows 78 percent of American drivers who don't own a sedan will consider buying one soon. In the 18-34 age group, 86 percent of those who don't own a sedan will consider buying one soon, according to the research.
Sedans appeal to the younger buyers who don't want to be like their parents, who drive a crossover or SUV, Nissan design chief Alfonso Albaisa told Automotive News.
"The sedan is the middle finger," Albaisa said. "It's the tattoo."