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The Interesting 2013 Nissan Altima

Here’s an interesting aspect of Nissan in the U.S.Consider its 3.5-million-ft2 plant in Canton, MS.
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Here’s an interesting aspect of Nissan in the U.S.

Consider its 3.5-million-ft2 plant in Canton, MS. There it produces the Armada full-size SUV; the Titan King Cab and Crew Cab full-size pickup; and the NV commercial vehicle.

Then there’s its 5.4-million-ft2 plant in Smyrna, TN. There it produces the Frontier King and Crew Cab mid-size pickups; the Xterra SUV; the Pathfinder SUV; and the Maxima sedan.

And there’s one more thing that the two plants have in common: Both produce the Nissan Altima. Trucks and cars?

You want to think about places where they think differently about what can be made in given factories? Think about Nissan.

(Incidentally, they’ve been building them in Smyrna since the first, September 1992.)

Arguably, these guys have a perspective on things that isn’t constrained by typical practices.

And it brings up the all-new 2013 Altima.

Just as people in the industry probably don’t know that Nissan is making such an array of truck-like vehicles and Altimas in the same plants, they probably don’t know that in 2011 Nissan sold 268,981 Altimas in the U.S. Which means that in terms of car sales (excluding trucks) it was second only to the Toyota Camry (308,510). That’s right: more Altimas than Honda Accords. More than Ford Fusion. Or Chevy Malibu.

So what do they do for Altima, Gen V? What do they do when the competitors not only include the aforementioned but the Hyundai Sonata, Mazda6, VW Passat, and Kia Optima, all of which want a bigger piece of the growing midsize segment? John Curl, Nissan senior manager, Product Planning, answers that they provide a car that was developed under the rubric “A Class Above.”

Above in (1) styling, (2) driving performance, and (3) technology.

(1) Styling.
The car was styled in Japan. There is another Nissan model that has been Altima-like in size and amenities sold in other parts of the world, the Teena. Now both cars share the same styling. As a car that is designed in Japan tends to have, there is a certain terminology applied. In this case it is “kamishino.” It is a word for the coats worn by samurai. This influences the exterior design. From a more pragmatic sense, Curl points to the fender forms and the decklid: these are stampings that go well beyond the shallow draws that can be found in some competitive models. In fact, the decklid features the deepest draw in Nissan’s history. Beyond the forms, there is an upscale touch: a chrome surround for the windows and chrome for the door handles. Inside they wanted to achieve a car that combines comfort with an upscale ambience. The comfort is best realized in the front seats, which are predicated on research done by NASA for astronaut zero-g accommodations. (Seriously.)

(2) Driving performance.
“A big part of the story is mass reduction,” says Curl. Even though they’ve added technology, they’ve managed to reduce the mass of the 2013 by 79 lb. (depending on the trim level and powertrain, the curb weight of the new Altima ranges from 3,108 lb. to 3,355 lb.). Mass reduction is realized through things like using 1.3-GPa steel in the body-in-white. Like using aluminum for the hood and bumper structure. While light is good when it comes to things like fuel efficiency—and the Altima equipped with the standard 182-hp, 2.5-liter four and a next-gen Xtronic continuously variable transmission (next-gen because 70% of the parts were redesigned and internal friction was reduced by up to 40%) offer an estimated 27/38 city/highway mpg*—the car must also be stiff enough to handle going through curves. So they’ve used such things as large front tower strut brace (which is also used in vehicles like the Nissan 370Z) and a rear structural support built into the parcel shelf. There is a new multilink rear suspension setup. ZF SACHS shocks with valving to reduce wheel hop and ride harshness are used. There is an Active Understeer Control system based on the Vehicle Dynamic Control and Traction Control Systems; it uses the front brakes during cornering to increase yaw, thereby counteracting understeer when turning, especially at speed. The steering system is a hybrid hydraulic-electric system. The hydraulic assist is supplemented by an electric motor.

(3) Technology.
There is the seeming obligatory infotainment system, Nissan Connect, which brings in such things as Pandora, Bluetooth hands-free phone, hands-free text messaging, and more. A more interesting technology play is the fact that models fitted with the rear-view camera (mounted in the license plate finisher) not only provides backup assistance and moving object detection, but it also provides the functions of blind-spot detection and lane departure warning (it looks back at the lane marker lines to determine whether the car is traveling between them). There is a standard 4-in. LCD display located between the speedo and tach that provides operating information.—GSV

*So, what’s behind the high fuel efficiency? Nissan breaks it down: 40% CVT; 15% aero (0.299 Cd); 15% mass reduction; 10% engine improvements; 10% other (e.g., low rolling resistance tires); 5% electric power steering; 5% smart alternator.