NEW YORK–A friend of mine called a few weeks ago to ask when would be a good time to publish a magazine about new cars. “They always bring out the next year’s cars in the fall, don’t they?” he said.“Once upon a time they did,” I replied. “But those days are gone. I’m going to Manhattan soon to attend the New York International Auto Show where Nissan is going to unveil its completely redesigned 2019 Altima. It is March 2018, and they are launching the 2019 car already. “Granted, this Altima won’t be available in Nissan showrooms till November, when we’ll find out the Canadian specs, models, options and pricing. But they’re beating the marketing drums now, reaching out to people who might be in the market by then. “Other manufacturers are also introducing next year’s cars and trucks. So, if you want to publish a magazine about new cars, I’d suggest you think about doing it now. Don’t wait till autumn.”Earlier this week, Nissan’s North American chairman, Denis Le Vot, was front-and-centre at the Javits Center on New York’s West Side, scene of this year’s NYIAS. He pulled the cover off a cherry-red Altima sedan that he said would revolutionize the mid-size sedan segment in auto manufacturing.This is the sixth-generation Altima – the model was invented in 1993 – and 5.6 million of those cars have been sold in the U.S. over the last 25 years. The focus of what Nissan says is a completely redesigned 2019 car, in addition to the PR push about making driving more fun, is to make driving safer and more economical.Le Vot said three things were important to him:- the Altima includes the most advanced driver assist technologies the company has developed to date, which it calls ProPilot Assist.- two new engines are available, including what the chairman said was the world’s first production variable compression engine, or VC Turbo.- it is the first Nissan sedan in North America to be equipped with intelligent all-wheel drive, which the company thinks will be a big-selling point in Canada and the northern U.S. The car features Nissan’s single-lane autonomous drive technology, called ProPilot Assist. This means the car will literally drive itself while travelling in one lane. The technology reduces a driver’s workload by taking over acceleration, braking and steering – although you have to pay attention and keep your hands either on or very near the steering wheel because, otherwise, the vehicle will first warn you to stop daydreaming (or texting . . .) and if you continue to ignore it, it will just stop itself and shut down. Scientists are already hard at work developing ProPilot technology for multi-lane highway driving and that will be coming soon, the company says. By 2020, Le Vot said, the technology will also support city driving, in which the car will move in tandem with other vehicles around it.One of the most interesting advances in safety generally was introduced by Le Vot during his media conference. Branded as “Safety Shield 360,” it includes a number of innovative safety features but the most important – and intriguing – is RFear Intelligent Emergency Braking. This will be a Godsend for all those people who insist on parking in a position that requires them to back out. First, most people don’t know how to do it properly and it takes them forever. Second, and most important, there are countless numbers of fender-benders in shopping-centre parking lots caused by people backing into other parked cars. Now, with this assist, which will stop your car before it crunches another, it should be much easier and safer.The other really intriguing feature is the Variable Combustion Turbo four-cylinder engine. The old Altima V6 engine has been replaced by a VC 2.5-Litre four cylinder, which can deliver the power of a V6 with the fuel economy of a four cylinder. It can deliver incredible 240 horsepower, or run with what Le Vot called “extreme efficiency.”Nissan engineers have been working on this technology for decades and it was introduced last year by sister company Infiniti. It transforms the compression rate from one to the other (power to efficiency and back again, resulting in improved fuel mileage and without the equivalent emissions), seamlessly and effortlessly.Now, the intelligent all-wheel drive system will be an option. But Canadians and those in U.S. states where snow is no stranger will be curious. Nissan believes sedan sales have suffered because this technology has not been available, thus explaining many of the moves to compact SUVs. “Of the top three selling sedans in the United States, only the Altima will offer all-wheel drive,” he said. “We expect this to be a sales driver, particularly with customers in the northern part of the (U.S.) country and Canada.”Jose Munoz, chief performance officer for Nissan, said: “Our goal with the all-new Altima is to re-energize the sedan segment in terms of design, driving feel and in making advanced technologies available and affordable for everyone. We want to energize drivers by helping to make their lives safer, less stressful and more exciting.”Alfonso Albaisa, senior vice-president, global design, said that Nissan knew it had to elected the appearance of the Altima and he’s satisfied they’ve succeeded.“Compared with the previous generation, the new Altima is 1.1 inches lower in height, 1.0 inch lower in length and 0.9 inches wider while also featuring a smaller front overhang, a 1.9 inch longer wheelbase and the rear wheels are pushed further to the corners,” he said.“The result is a dramatically sleeker, yet more sophisticated look.”
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