Why Is the 2014 Nissan Altima America's Best-Selling Car?

So far this year, the Nissan Altima has out-sold its midsize sedan rivals -- and every other car in America. Photo credit: Nissan

What is America's best-selling car?

You'd be excused if you guessed Toyota's  (NYSE: TM  ) Camry, or Honda's  (NYSE: HMC  ) Accord -- or even Ford's  (NYSE: F  ) sharply styled Fusion. But the truth is -- so far in 2014, at least -- Nissan's  (NASDAQOTH: NSANY  ) Altima has outsold them all.

What's behind that? For sure, the Altima is a solid entry in the tough midsize-sedan segment. But as Fool contributor John Rosevear explains in this video, there might be a little bit more to the story of the Altima's sudden sales success -- success that might turn out to be expensive for Nissan in the long run.

A transcript of the video is below.

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John Rosevear: Hey Fools, it's John Rosevear. So there's an interesting shakeup in the auto sales rankings. In terms of new vehicle sales in the U.S., Ford and Chevy pickups are the top two, year in and year out, that doesn't change.

But third place is where the action is. That's America's best-selling car, and for a while now, that spot has been owned by the Toyota Camry, with occasional visits by the Honda Accord. But so far in 2014 we have a different leader, through the first two months of the year Nissan's Altima is America's best selling car.

That's kind of a surprise.

It's not a surprise that the Camry has fallen a bit behind, the Camry has been losing market share for the last year or so, not because it's bad but because its competitors have gotten better. We saw the Honda Accord gain ground last year, we saw Ford's Fusion gain quite a bit of ground, and the Altima has also done quite well too.

But Altima sales weren't all that great at this time last year, they really took off after Nissan made some big price cuts last May. Nissan has also boosted its incentives. Data from TrueCar shows that Nissan's overall incentives, not just on Altima but across its line, its overall average incentives per vehicle were higher than any other automaker other than then Detroit Three, and the Detroit automakers have higher incentives because they're all big players in the pickup market and incentives are traditionally big in that market. So Nissan's incentives really have been quite a bit higher than we'd expect for a Japanese automaker recently.

And their focus is definitely on the Altima, sales analyst Timothy Cain of the GoodCarBadCar blog points out that about 30% of Nissan's total sales volume in the U.S. in February was Altimas, compared to 21% for Toyota with the Camry. And while Toyota is booking amazing huge profits thanks to the favorable shift in exchange rates between the dollar and the Japanese yen that has made each dollar worth more in Japan, Nissan seems to have chosen to spend that advantage on gaining market share.

Nissan's net profits last quarter were just $825 million dollars, compared to Toyota's $5.1 billion dollars, billion with a "b", and their margins -- Nissan's margins -- were the lowest of any Japanese automaker, lower than Ford and GM too, by quite a bit. So at least for the moment Nissan has America's best-selling car, but I wonder if they've kind of made a devil's bargain here. We'll see what their profits look like this quarter, but I'm betting they're not going to be strong. Thanks for watching, and Fool on.

Read/Post Comments (9) | Recommend This Article (7)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On March 16, 2014, at 1:54 AM, vinnieboiblue wrote:

    Its really simple....The reason why the Altima is the best seller is due to it not being a boring appliance on wheels like the Camry.

  • Report this Comment On March 16, 2014, at 1:57 AM, santa6642 wrote:

    Best joke this year

  • Report this Comment On March 16, 2014, at 7:39 AM, satxearl wrote:

    Altima=Rental Car=Fleet Sales

  • Report this Comment On March 16, 2014, at 9:19 AM, boffo9 wrote:

    The Altima owners I've known never buy another .

  • Report this Comment On March 16, 2014, at 9:45 AM, fro wrote:

    Cars sell because of their looks PERIOD.!!!!!!

    The Video is nothing but doubletalk

  • Report this Comment On March 16, 2014, at 12:10 PM, JohanStrauss wrote:

    "Altima=Rental Car=Fleet Sales"

    You're thinking of Ford's Taurus.

  • Report this Comment On March 16, 2014, at 5:32 PM, flatbedbill wrote:

    I had to rent a car the other day @ Enterprise while my car is getting a new head gasket. I'd say

    about 40/50% of the vehicles in the lot available to

    rent were Altima's. So, I hope they take into

    consideration that car rental agencies buy these things by the fleet, far more than Joe Citizen does

    on an individual basis.

    The Altima is like the Corolla and the Malibu: Typical and standard rent-a-car fare. My wife owns an Altima, and while its a good car, it

    certainly isn't something to write home about,

    nor does it embrace any specific qualities that make it unique - other than the abundance of

    power it has over the Corolla. Her Altima will

    scoot, has got plenty of power to safely merge

    'onto the interstate, and is quite comfortable.

    But, it's nothing spectacular.

  • Report this Comment On April 15, 2014, at 3:19 PM, CatherlineLin wrote:

    Once again, Ford is well represented...and is the #1 seller led by it's F150 truck! is good!

    My F150 is serviced by American mechanics, filled with gas from american stations, insured from American company ($25/month at Insurance Panda), and used to transport goods for an American business (my own).

    I’m still amazed at the number of new foreign cars I see on the road everyday. People ....didn’t you see what happened to Detroit? How about the bailouts of GM and Chrysler? You can try and blame anyone you want, but the bottom line is we are cutting our own throats in the USA.

    I’m 34 and have been happily driving American cars all my life. There’s absolutely no reason everyone else couldn’t do the same!

  • Report this Comment On October 05, 2014, at 10:35 AM, kms1990 wrote:

    You can say what you will but nissan has been the most consistently reliable brand me and my family have ever owned. I had a sentra go to 330,000 miles when i sold it to a neighbor who drove it to over 500,000 miles and sold it again still running strong. best car i ever owned it got 43-46mpg average no matter what and never gave me any issues just minor little leaks and quick maintenance and thats all me or the neighbor ever had to do. its funny some here mention american cars, most american cars are built outside the states and nissan builds many cars here and in north america. They make the best cars from my personal experience with several of their cars and i will continue to buy them until i see a reason not to. Japan brands have been consistently reliable for me and my family. nissan is my first pick, then mazda as a close second then toyota, as i have had a bad toyota but the family has had good ones.

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John Rosevear

John Rosevear is the Fool's Senior Auto Specialist. John has been writing about the auto business and investing for over 20 years, and for The Motley Fool since 2007.

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