Nissan’s Sentra had the largest percentage increase in sales among the 20 top-selling cars and light trucks in July — up 53.7 % to 17,579. And it is in a very competitive sector of the industry, which makes the performance particularly impressive. However, Nissan’s financing offers for the car are unusually aggressive, which may account for some of the advance.
The Sentra’s success has extended throughout the year. Its sales through the first seven months have risen 43.1% to 111,477.
Nissan has been wise to offer a wide-spread of Sentra models, which allows it broad appeal. The base Sentra S is priced at $15,990. The high-end Sentra SL starts at $19,640 before the addition of any optional features. With a navigation package and leather interior, the price rises as high as $25,000. One of the primary attractions beyond price is gas mileage. The Sentra’s highway mpg is rated at 40.
Car companies with brand names that are likely stronger than Nissan’s, at least in the United States, have models aimed at the low-price, high miles per gallon segment as well. Among these are Toyota Motor Corp.’s (NYSE: TM) Corolla, which was the fifth best-selling car in America for July. It is a mainstay for the model line of the largest car company in Japan, with a base price of $16,800 and a highway rating of 37 mpg. Honda Motor Co. Ltd.’s (NYSE: HMC) Civic Sedan is also among competing cars, but is priced higher than the Sentra at $18,390. It was the seventh best-selling car in America in July, with unit sales of 30,038. Also directly competitive is the General Motors Co. (NYSE: GM) Chevy Cruz, which was the 16th best-selling car in America in July, with unit sales of 20,926. The 2014 base Cruz is priced as low as $17,520. Chevy has already launched the 2015 version, but it will not be available until late this year. Chevy promotes with Cruz highway mpg as high as 46, but that is with a diesel engine.
The success of the Sentra has likely been costly for Nissan. It offers financing as low as 0.0% APR for 72 months. Very few cars or light trucks come with finance packages nearly that aggressive.
Nissan’s growth in the United States has been extraordinary this year, up 12.6% for the first seven months to 825,929, compared to 5% for the entire industry. That means it has nearly caught the long-time number two selling Japanese brand, Honda. Honda’s sales so far in 2014 have been 875,344. And those sales have fallen 1.3% over that period. Nissan’s could catch Honda by the end of the year, but the victory will be expensive.