The story behind the design of the all-new Nissan Altima (w/VIDEO)

Ask the designers of the all-new Nissan Altima what’s they expect it to achieve and chances are they will confidently say that it will reinvigorate interest in midsize sedans. Once the dominant bodystyle in most major markets, sedan sales have experienced erosion in favour of consumers’ preferences for crossovers and compact SUVs. That has left the leading global sedan manufacturers in a unique position of competing not only with each other but also within their own model line-ups for sales.

“When we originally started designing the sixth generation of the Altima, it was still the company’s best-selling nameplate in the critical US market, so there wasn’t much pressure to make radical changes,” explained Alfonso Albaisa, Senior Vice-President, Global Design, Nissan Motor. “Then our own Rogue took off, drawing in new customers unlike anything we’d experienced before. This gave us the opportunity to rethink the Altima outside the traditional sedan design box and create something more exciting and yet more sophisticated.”

Vmotion 2.0 concept was the basis for the design of the new Altima

Thus, deep into the usual design cycle, teams from 4 major Nissan design centres – Japan, Europe, U.S. and China – were called together to start working on a compressed timeline to create a new global face for Nissan sedans. Simultaneously, in a nearby studio, work was well underway for the Vmotion 2.0 concept which became the blueprint for the new Altima.

“The usual sequence for a concept car and production model is to have a little more breathing room between the two so you can gauge public reaction. But with the Altima, the schedule was compressed to the benefit of both vehicles through an ongoing exchange of ideas,” said Albaisa.

The other unique aspect of the new Altima design process was driven by the decision to make this generation more of a global vehicle, rather than just US-focused. Working side by side, the Nissan designers from each market influenced the others, resulting in a design appealing to global customers looking for sophistication, expressivity and sport.

Given the freedom to go bold and go quickly, the designers faced another challenge. In a changing marketplace for midlevel-priced vehicles, who represented the core, loyal sedan buyer? The answer came down to two words – professional and sophisticated.

“Our studies clearly identified a large group of people who choose sedans over crossovers because they see sedans as more efficient in terms of space and energy – and as vehicles that work equally well with clients as with carpools,” said Albaisa. “We pictured empowered people who want everything in their lives – from homes to offices to fashion to cars – to be functional yet stylish every single day. The all-new Altima is exactly that.”

With this key target consumer mindset in place, a couple of other timely decisions fell into the designers’ laptops. First, the corporate decision to make the Altima a true showcase for the most advanced Nissan Intelligent Mobility technology as well as the major investment in two new engines. And secondly, the decision to give the Altima a new lower, longer, wider platform.

Those two decisions alone enabled a number of critical design choices, starting with the new Altima’s proportions and stance. The lower-profile engines – both the new VC-Turbo and the new 2.5-litre 4-cylinder unit – gave the designers the freedom and space to lower the new Altima’s cowl and bonnet line – which also resulted in a lower instrument panel height and a more open-feeling cabin.

With the more compact engines, not only could the bonnet be lower but the front overhang could also be shortened. At the same time, the rear wheels could be pushed farther to the corners, helping create the sleek, sporty profile. The designers then opened up the wheel wells of the longer, wider body and fitted up to 19-inch wheels and tyres – creating the sporty stance, like a track athlete getting ready to run.

“Stance is something most people don’t think about but recognize it when they see it. It’s that sense of a car just looking right. The new Altima… the way it sits… just looks right,” added Albaisa.

Interior of the new Altima

Once the dimensions and under-the-skin engineering parameters were set, the real work began – draping and fine-tuning the sheet metal in a way that both breaks new ground and also is easily recognized as a Nissan. The designers began by considering what they call ‘structural beauty’, inspired by lean, strong and confident current-generation architecture and construction that uses curvy surfaces and lines to create an energetic and emotional flow. They also looked at today’s slim, tailored men’s and women’s suits that project a sleeker, sharper modern style.

These qualities were expressed in the new Altima’s linear, tailored look, with sharp horizontal lines emphasizing the lower, longer proportions. The bodyside, for example, is dominated by one prominent crease that runs from headlamp through the entire car.

“The Altima proportions gave us the freedom to create a body that’s simple and streamlined, with a strong horizontal movement. Unlike typical sedans, the surfaces and body panels are anything but boring, with shoulder twists and sharp sheet metal stampings capturing and reflecting colours and light,” said Albaisa.

The new Altima also embraces the new-generation Nissan signature design cues, including the distinctive evolving V-motion grille, floating roof and boomerang lights. For use on the new Altima, the roof pillars appear slimmer and the headlight more streamlined. The LED headlights and daytime running lights combine with the signature grille design to emphasize the front-end width and low bonnet. In the rear, the horizontal movement continues, showcasing the evolved boomerang taillight treatment.

The exterior colour choices for the new Altima are also a big step away from ordinary. Along with the usual whites, silvers and black, two Altima-specific colours have been created to drape the expressive body with a standout sense of richness and energy. The Scarlet Ember premium colour uses special tinting to add more depth and layering than regular paint surfaces. The other colour is Sunset Drift, a metallic orange with a ‘colour-shifting’ quality created by a special pigment shape. The way the paint reflects light as viewers move around the Altima gives the car a unique dynamic energy.

“Designers are always looking for the ‘wow’ factor when people first see their vehicle, when they open a door and when they sit inside for the first time. But what really makes us proud is that the dynamic excitement of the new Altima’s exterior and interior styling is matched – and then some – with its dynamic performance. The sedan game has officially been changed,” declared Albaisa.

Only the first generation of the Altima was sold in Malaysia (during the 1990s). It was actually a continuation of the Bluebird line but Edaran Tan Chong Motor managed to get permission from Nissan to add to the badge the Altima name that had been meant only for the US market.

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[Chips Yap]