Nissan's brand marketing in the United States is making an abrupt turn these days — and probably a right turn. As it promotes the new version of its Altima mid-size sedan this spring, Nissan sets out on a refreshing new direction that emphasizes the gee-whiz advanced technology in the Altima -- and it has nothing to do with an electric power train.
Arguably, Nissan has spent a couple of years treading water as a brand in the U.S. market. The automaker poured a lot of resources into promoting the Leaf EV, the innovative engineering behind the car, and the very notion of vehicle electrification; and you can argue how much all of that accomplished, because Leaf sales remain paltry. In the meantime, Nissan's supply lines got sacked last year by the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. And while its 15-percent sales advance in the U.S. last year bested the performances of Toyota and Honda, appreciation in Nissan's brand just hasn't kept pace.
But in the U.S. market this year, the brand is clearing the decks for a hoped-for renaissance. The 2013 Altima launch — hyped at the New York International Auto Show in March and teased with a TV commercial that cloaks the new car in a sheet — is the first in a planned series of five model overhauls this year that will replenish much of Nissan's product line and promises to lend the brand more momentum.
"We have had six straight years of growth, even with one of the older lineups in the industry," Jon Brancheau, Nissan's U.S. CMO, told Marketing Daily. "Now we are turning the corner with the new Altima."
Brancheau is trying to create a new persona for the 20-year-old Altima model, one of a premium ownership and driving experience in an affordable package. And in its biggest-ever marketing campaign for the nameplate, Nissan is heavily touting new technological features and devices in the car to support that idea.
Altima's new features include a wheel-specific indicator of air pressure, a rear camera that automaticaly washes itself when it senses dirt on the lens, and wiper blades that automatically return to their wells and lights that automatically illuminate when the wiper blades have made four circuits. Altima also will boast of improved fuel economy, 38mpg on the highway.
Between the technological innovations and better mileage, the new Altima presents a package that should be equipped to compete with other overhauled entries in the segment, such as Ford Fusion, that have more of a design story to tell. Now it's up to Brancheau to sell that story.