Even jaded Las Vegas was beside itself recently, when news broke that some lucky bandit-yanker landed a $34 million slot fortune with only $20 worth of bait. And while they didn't admit it openly, Nissan operatives on hand for the national media debut of the 2000-model Nissan Sentra compact sedan must have reveled quietly over these auspicious tidings.
Not for nothing, perhaps, did Nissan elect to preen its new Sentra before auto writers at the opulent Mandalay Bay Casino: for all the new frills and furbelows intended to refine the reputation of Nissan's entry-level compact, stakes are especially high in this company's bid to redeem its tarnished fortunes.
Entry-level compacts represent the cockfight of the auto business. It's a messy, no-holds-barred category that nobody really enjoys but everyone feels compelled to join. For a class of car ranging in price between $10,000 to $17,000, you can just imagine how the "value" pitch works overtime. Buyers at the bottom, where the base-model Nissan XE will compete at an $11,690 starting price, are typically watching every penny.
Since it's not unheard of that dealers will profit only $250 to $300 per car in this class, it behooves a manufacturer like Nissan to load its new Sentra with goodies that will sell themselves. Heaven knows most salespeople won't be falling over themselves for chicken feed commissions when there are SUV profits to pocket.
Kicky new frocks
Without the least sense of irony, then, did Nissan spokesman Mark Perry introduce his new Sentra as the starter sedan "that only looks like you can't afford it." For 2000, Sentra wears kicky new frocks, with a more streamlined front silhouette that sweeps rearward into muscular haunches. Many journalists in attendance wondered openly if Sentra might not cannibalize sales of Nissan's own Altima sedan, which sits one rung higher in the product line pecking order. "Not so," Perry predictably parried; but then, with admirable candor, he admitted the graver threat: "It's the two-year-old vehicles just coming off lease that we're really gunning for. Sure, their prices are competitive, because they're used; but isn't a new car at a similar price more desirable yet?"