Nissan Motor Co. will launch 22 new vehicles worldwide over the next three years as part of a product offensive by Chief Operating Officer Carlos Ghosn.
In North America, 10 new or redesigned models will have debuted by 2003, including a full-sized pickup and a rushed redesign of the Altima. Over the period 1999-2003, Nissan Europe also will have launched 10 new cars.
This product assault is key to Ghosn's revival plan for Nissan, which in the past overspent on areas such as incentives and administrative costs while scrimping on product development.
One sign of the pace set by Ghosn is the short cycle for the redesign of the US Altima. The original five-year cycle was cut to four years when the current model was launched in 1998. The next version will debut in autumn 2001, just three years later.
The accelerated cycle was necessary to upgrade Nissan's best-selling product, which faces fierce competition in the family sedan market.
'We want to be courageous, to take risks,' said Patrick Pelata, Nissan's global product development chief. 'We do not want to be in Toyota's shadow. We want to have our own sunlight.'
Much of the focus rests on the design of the new cars. Nissan's recent offerings in Europe and North America have been criticized for being bland. Next to be launched in Europe are the Almera Tino minivan, and the replacement for the slow-selling Maxima QX.
'Nissans should be simple, but clean, precise and sophisticated,' said chief designer Shiro Nakamura. 'But I want distinctive products. I don't think Nissans should look the same - like Audis and BMWs.
'The proportions of the car need to be our No. 1 priority.'
A side-view picture of the Altima, which was shown at a recent press briefing, depicted a dramatic, angular departure from the current, lozenge-shaped design. An Audi-like nose leads to a flatter roof line and a high, flat rear deck lid. There is some resemblance to the Infiniti XVL show car, although an upward-sloping side panel crease is reminiscent of modern-era Alfa Romeo sedans. The overall flavor of the Altima is distinctly European.
The next Altima, which will be a true mid-sized sedan, will get both four- and six-cylinder engines. That means the current Maxima will get a boost to a 3.5-liter V-6 at that time, Pelata confirmed. Nissan also wants to increase the performance of the Sentra engine line before the recently redesigned sedan completes its cycle in 2005.
'We want to have class-leading power,' Pelata said.
There also are big plans for trucks.
Speaking to reporters at the New York International Auto Show last month, Ghosn confirmed he had signed off on the full-sized pickup the previous week. The truck will arrive in 2003 on a new platform and with a new V-8 engine. Nissan most likely will build the vehicle in the USA, Ghosn said.
With Nissan trucks representing a sharply increasing share of the automaker's US sales, Ghosn said as many products as possible will be based on the truck platform. Other planned products include the Infiniti Q45 and XVL sedans, Nissan Quest minivan and the Z sports car. Also being studied is a car-based sport-utility for both divisions.
However, Nissan will not bring a vehicle based on a shared Nissan-Renault platform to America until at least 2005, Pelata said.
'Our potential in the USA is based just on Nissan, so we don't need Renault for that. There are not a lot of synergies that we see, except in the lower parts of the market,' Pelata said.
Just the same, Ghosn wants all Nissan and Renault products to be built on combined platforms within 10 years.
On the engineering side, Nissan will be more conservative in what it brings to market. No longer will there be engineering for engineering's sake, but engineering to address concerns of customers. Hence the Extroid continuously variable transmission will not come to the USA unless there is demand for it first.
'Our strength is rooted in being known as a high-quality, high-reliability, no-problem car. But we also have the most brilliant engineers and designers in the industry, and they are capable of developing surprising, attractive, competitive cars. Nissans are also good value,' Ghosn said. 'We'll want to keep some of that, and add more features.'
What's more, Nissan designers' work is no longer finished when the exterior and interior styling is completed, Pelata said.
In a bid to compete with Volkswagen interiors, designers are being assigned to determine grain, materials and textures for Nissan car interiors.
'We still have a lot of work to do in terms of perceived value,' Pelata said. 'There is no reason that with Nissan's manufacturing quality, we can't have a better image than German cars.'