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Nissan looks east and west for Altima

Maxima replacement might yet come from Thailand as Nissan looks for best Altima deal

Nissan logo19 Mar 2012

By RON HAMMERTON

NISSAN Australia is tossing up between the United States, Thailand and – possibly – Japan as the production source for its Maxima replacement, the 2013 Altima.

The mid-size Camry competitor – now the subject of three teaser videos ahead of its global debut at the New York motor show next month – is not due in Australia before the second half of 2013, and Nissan is said to be using the time to nail down the best production option.

The new fifth-generation Altima is likely to go into production first in the US – its biggest market, where the current Altima was the second-best-selling passenger car behind Toyota’s Camry last year.

The Altima currently is built at Nissan’s Smyrna (Tennessee) and Canton (Mississippi) plants in the US, along with the Kanda plant at Fukuoka, on the southern Japanese island of Kyushu.

The related Maxima is assembled in at least eight countries, including Thailand, which was the source of Maxima stock bound for Australia until late last year when a combination of Thai floods disruption and demand from within south-east Asia forced Nissan Australia to resume Japanese imports of its biggest sedan about three months ago.

12 center imageLeft: Teaser shot of the new Altima from above.

Nissan Australia general manager Jeff Fisher told GoAuto that the Nissan’s new “medium-to-large sedan” would not just be built in the US, opening up alternatives for Australian sourcing, which he said had not been decided.

“That’s a decision they will make closer to the time, depending on the dollar, depending on the logistics, depending on freight costs and things,” he said.

“Although we have a free-trade agreement with the US, the same as we do with Thailand, logistics and freight costs would likely be higher bringing it from the US, but there are other advantages in doing that (US sourcing) as well.

“So it is a swings-and-roundabouts study that they will do.”

The Altima will be launched in Australia with the support of a multi-million-dollar assault on the 2013 V8 Supercar championship by Melbourne-based Kelly Racing, which is preparing the race car powered by a Nissan Motorsport-prepared 5.6-litre V8 from the American-made Titan pick-up and US Pathfinder.

Nissan Australia managing director Dan Thompson told GoAuto in January that his company was looking at sourcing US-built vehicles, including the next-generation Pathfinder that was unveiled at the Detroit motor show.

The fact that Nissan Australia is already planning to import its new right-hand-drive Pathfinder from the US, in volumes roughly four times the current annual running rate of about 2400 units, makes it easier to consider US sourcing of Altima for Australia because the transport pipeline would be similar.

For shipping companies, the US-Australia route is becoming more attractive, with Toyota’s next-generation Kluger also set to switch production from Japan to the US, at Toyota’s Princeton, Indiana, plant, joining Jeep, Mercedes-Benz and BMW SUVs and Chrysler passenger cars on the trans-Pacific route.

Nissan is yet to disclose technical details of the new Altima, saying in the latest teaser video release that the car would “bring outstanding fuel economy, premium design inside and out, and driver-focused technologies to a mid-size sedan”.

American car magazines and websites say the car is likely to be offered with upgraded versions of the existing 2.5-litre normally aspirated four-cylinder engine mated with a continuously variable transmission (CVT), and probably the latest iteration of Nissan’s 3.5-litre V6 with automatic transmission. No manual will be available.

It is unclear if the range will include a hybrid to replace the now-discontinued petrol-electric Altima offered in some green-tinged states such as California.

That car used a Toyota hybrid drive system, but US reports suggests a Nissan-developed hybrid system is in the pipeline for Altima, perhaps with a supercharged version of the 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine.

In Australia, the new Altima with help to stir a hornet’s nest in the medium car segment, with new models such as the Holden Malibu, next Ford Mondeo and new-generation Mazda6 and Honda Accord, all set to take on the top-selling, locally made Toyota Camry over the next 18 months.

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