NEW YORK – Nissan unveils its ’19 Altima sedan here, and a senior designer makes a serious case as to why cars are cool even though SUVs overshadow – and outsell them – in today’s market.

“With the success of crossovers, we saw the opportunity to design the Altima outside the box,” Alfonso Albaisa, Nissan’s senior vice president-global design, says at the car’s world premiere at the New York International Auto Show.

Using descriptors such as sexy, elegant, sleek, dynamic, streamlined, sculpted and stunning, he says Altima designers sought to make the car a head-turner that appeals to car shoppers, particularly young Americans.

“We are set to capture more U.S. drivers,” especially Millennials in their 20s and 30s, he says. “They show an inclination for sedans. This car is for empowered people who want function and style.”

The sixth-generation Altima features deep-stamped sheet metal. The angular side lines resemble those on the Infiniti Q50, a sedan from Nissan’s luxury line.

The Altima features two engine choices (with horsepower ranging from 248 to 188), assorted safety technologies, kicked-up connectivity and all-wheel-drive. The Altima is the only Nissan sedan to offer the latter.

“It’s the most-advanced sedan Nissan has ever created,” says Denis Le Vot, chairman of Nissan North America, who spent 27 years at Renault before jumping over to the sister brand.             

Nissan will produce the car at plants in Smyrna, TN, and Canton, MS. The automaker will sell the vehicle in the U.S. first, then plans to expand to other markets.

The automaker sold 254,996 Altimas in the U.S. last year compared with 307,380 in 2016, a 17% decline, according to Ward’s Intelligence.

Following the unveiling, Albaisa speaks with WardsAuto about selling sedans in an SUV world.

WardsAuto: You made a real case for sedans in an SUV world. Expand on that.

Albaisa: Humans are not predictable. The SUV has become everywhere. They meet all kinds of needs. But sedans, especially sexy ones, are vehicles many people are going to.

Especially young people, which was a bit of a surprise to us. So we’ve been looking at this. It’s been increasing. A 19-year-old’s opinion of a sedan is completely different than that of a 26-year-old.     

WardsAuto: Why do you suppose that’s the case, the teens don’t typically have kids or need a lot of cargo space?

Albaisa: That, and their parents probably drove SUVs or something like that. They

WardsAuto: They want to be different from their parents?

Albaisa: They want to set themselves as unique. For some people, unique and sedan aren’t used in the same sentence. For them, this is a signature silhouette that is cool and they’re going for that. 

WardsAuto: Design-wise, can you do more with a sedan than with a SUV?

Albaisa: Actually, with SUVs and CUVs, there is no limit as to what you can do, especially as we move toward electrification. It is really a wonderful recipe of elements. But it allows a sedan like the Altima to need to be sexy, because you are not going to satisfy someone’s functional needs with a sedan.

If someone is just checking boxes on functionality, they will probably go toward something else.  

WardsAuto: Such as?

Albaisa: A CUV or something like that. But if they want something sexy, agile, spirited, connected to the road and fun to drive, they will get into an Altima.

As a designer, you can do a lot with a sedan. You can make it feel bigger and dynamic.

WardsAuto: Nissan says it will start selling Altimas in the U.S. and then go to other markets. What would those be?

Albaisa: We’re not really communicating that today, but it is similar to what we have today. The Altima is mainly a U.S. car. It was born in this country and more than 5 million Americans have bought it (over the last 23 years). And those are just the people who bought new ones.

WardsAuto: Why do you need two U.S. plants for Altima production?

Albaisa: Because we’re making so many. Literally. It’s not possible to make it in one place

WardsAuto: You make a lot of other vehicles in Smyrna (the largest vehicle assembly plant by volume in the U.S.) The assembly lines can get crowded there.

Albaisa: Canton too. The Altima there is being stamped out next to Titans (full-size pickup trucks.

WardsAuto: That’s flex manufacturing, for sure.

Albaisa: That’s the beauty of our industry.

sfinlay@wardsauto.com