We’re eagerly gearing up this week to attend the annual New York International Auto Show which kicks off April 4th at the Jacob Javits Center.  Lots of exciting new product introductions are scheduled which should make for a great event. 

Looking across the press conference schedule, two models in particular stand apart in terms of their importance to their respective companies - the 2013 Nissan Altima and the 2014 Chevrolet Impala. 

Let’s start with the Altima.  The importance of Nissan’s mid-size car competitor to the company’s fortunes in the States can’t be overstated. 

The current Altima has been Nissan’s volume leader since its redesign back in 2007, with annual sales for the model averaging around 251K units per year.  To keep volume up in the hyper competitive segment, Nissan has had to goose incentives significantly.  Average incentive spending for the Altima was over $4,000 for the month of February, up $1,200 compared to the same period in 2011.  From a retention standpoint, the current generation Altima has struggled a bit in the last few model years to compete with similar offerings from Honda and Toyota.  Looking at April 2012 NADA Used Car Guide values for similarly equipped used 2010 models the Altima ranks below both the Accord and Camry dollar for dollar.  When new, the 2010 Nissan Altima S had a factory MSRP of $21,840, $990 more than the Camry LE and $785 more than the Honda Accord LX.   Current NADA Used Car Guide April Clean Trade-In values show that the Altima is worth on average about $900 less than the Accord and $725 less than the Camry, a gap which Nissan hopes to close with the fresh redesign. 

Expect the new 2013 Altima to incorporate a totally new exterior and interior design, and boast a slew of new available technology including an “Advanced Drive-Assist Display” which Nissan states “is designed to keep the driver focused on the road.”  Considering that Toyota, Honda, and Ford have or soon will be launching mid-size car updates of their own, the Altima’s new design has to resonate with consumers if Nissan wants to appreciably reduce incentive spending long-term and grow used price retention.  

Another big debut will be the 2014 Impala, which Chevrolet has been releasing teaser photos of for the last few weeks.  The outgoing Impala is long overdue for a redesign, last seeing a major sheet metal update way back in 2006.  In 2011 Chevrolet sold just over 171K Impalas of which 101K found their way straight into fleet duty. The current generation Impala’s peak sales performance year was back in 2007 where 311K units were sold of which only 96K found their way into fleet duty.  Since its introduction back in 2006, Chevrolet has sold on average about 229K Impalas a year, 57K more units than were sold last year.  Average incentive spending has been creeping up over the past few years, landing at over $4,100 for the entire 2011 calendar year.  Large cars seem to be making a big comeback; new offerings like the Chrysler 300, Ford Taurus, and Hyundai Azera have raised the bar on what was once a boring segment.  Since large car design is no longer staid and boring, will the Impala’s new design be more conservative or will it try to match the more modern designs of the competition?

Also expect big announcements from Toyota and Lexus as they introduce the new Avalon and ES models.  Lexus has released some teaser shots of the new ES and it appears to be inheriting the styling cues found on its recently redesigned big brother the GS.  Both the Avalon and ES are much needed new models as each brand scrambles for ways to make up market share that was recently lost to competitive makes.

Make sure you check out the blog next week when I’ll share the team’s thoughts on the new product unveiled in NY, and will touch on the potential price impact that each will have once they enter the used vehicle market.