Nissan Aims New Altima for Number One

Nissan workers and reporters get a first look at the fifth generation Altima.

The first 2013 Nissan Altima rolled off the manufacturing line Tuesday in Smyrna. Work stopped for a few minutes to celebrate the fifth-generation Altima. The company is aiming to have the country’s top-selling sedan.

Ask the 5,600 people who build cars in Smyrna, and they’ll say they have the Toyota Camry in their sights.

Nissan Americas vice chairman Bill Krueger shies away from throwing down the gauntlet, but he says number one is the goal.

“We didn’t put all the investment into this product and put all the features with an expectation to be number two. But ultimately, the consumer is going to vote with their purchase whether we sell more than anyone else.”

Last year, the Altima did beat the Honda Accord. But it was still 40,000 units behind the Camry, which has enjoyed the top spot for a decade.

Nissan officials are touting the new Altima’s 38 miles per gallon, which is slightly better than the Camry.

Ronnie Cope painted the first Altima in 1992. He helped keep the 2013 model under wraps.

Ronnie Cope painted the first Altima in 1992. He helped keep the 2013 model under wraps.

In 1992, the original Altima rolled off the line in Smyrna. Ronnie Cope painted that first car, which was maroon. The model has since sold 4.4 million units.

With the fifth-generation Altima, Cope has been on special assignment.

“My job has been to take this thing before it was released to the public, keep it under wraps, keep it hidden, keep people away from it. We built 183 trials. Everyone of them was covered and hid away.”

Cope says he had to drive through the plant with a hole cut out to see through the windshield. When Nissan built the first Altimas twenty years ago, there was little threat of workers leaking cell phone photos.

Back then, a selling point for the Altima was “intermittent wipers.” The fully-loaded 2013 model can warn drivers when they’re veering out of their lane.

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