Nissan Altima Could Morph Into Hatchback, Hints Design Boss

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Altima's chances of getting coupe and hybrid variants are slim to nil.

The midsize sedan is a dying breed—and for more reasons than one. At the 2018 New York Auto Show this week, Nissan revealed its sixth-generation Altima, one of the best-selling entries in a segment under constant threat from crossovers, SUVs, trucks—and aerodynamics. The need to make sedans that better cut through the air has introduced an interesting challenge for designers, explained Alfonso Albaisa, Senior Vice President of Global Nissan Design.

“The silhouette of the roof is flowing into the rear deck and you want the bottom of the rear glass to move rearward, but you have a magic number from the back of the glass to the bottom of the trunk that determines everyday usability. At the back is where you always struggle on a sedan,” Albaisa said before posing a question. “The biggest challenge is… when do you go hatchback? That’s always the issue with a sedan.” Pushing the Altima into hatchback territory wouldn’t be unprecedented in the midsize car segment. Mazda offered its first- and second-generation Mazda6 midsize sedan as a five-door hatchback. Buick recently reintroduced the body style on its Regal midsize car.

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However, going to a hatchback body style for any sedan comes with some risks. “A sedan is a very specific object,” explained Albaisa. “As soon as you move into a hatch, you add weight, you add visibility issues, and you add noise. You’re losing some aspects of the sedan.” On the other end of the utility spectrum sits another body style that’s quite unlikely to ever return to Altima. “A coupe is an athletic car. Cars are made by designers and engineers, but the customers determine them and there isn’t a big market for two-door coupes,” Albaisa said.

And even though numerous automakers have doubled-down on electrifying their sedans, Nissan—the manufacturer of the world’s most successful EV—likely won’t try to resurrect a hybrid Altima. “VC-Turbo is more efficient than a hybrid. The thing about engineering is you can never really guess what’s coming. There are lots of mechanical things that can be done with internal combustion engines to make them more and more efficient,” said Albaisa. “These kind of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde motors in the future are going to happen. As we go deep into electrification, we’re also working on making internal combustion engines extremely efficient and smaller, smaller, smaller.”

The midsize car market has taken a beating from crossovers and trucks. For 2018 up to the end of February, automakers sold a total of 222,991 midsize cars in America, representing 15-percent fewer midsize cars than sold during the same period in 2017. Nissan has attempted to differentiate its new Altima by gifting it a trick turbocharged engine with variable compression technology. Its base engine can also be fitted with all-wheel drive. The new, larger Altima is now significantly bigger inside than the more expensive Maxima, which the automaker will update for the 2019 North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

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