-- Hoping to perk up sluggish sales, Nissan will offer a less-than-$10,000 model of its Versa economy sedan with fewer features and a smaller engine.
It also will offer 0% interest and 100%-plus financing on its five most popular Nissans, including the more expensive versions of the Versa.
The low-price Versa — on sale Nov. 18 — is "a new car with a warranty at a used-car price," says Al Castignetti, Nissan vice president. It is the lowest-priced new car in the U.S., according to auto shopping site kbb.com.
The bare-bones Versa's sticker price is $9,990 ($10,685 with shipping, however) and comes with a manual transmission, hand-crank windows, no air conditioning and a 107-horsepower, 1.6-liter engine. The least-expensive Versa sedan until now has been the 1.8-liter model that starts at $12,990 ($13,685 including shipping), is rated 122 hp. and has air conditioning and power windows.
Oddly, the new 1.6 engine gets the same fuel economy in town as the 1.8 — 26 miles per gallon. But the 1.6-liter is rated 34 mpg on the highway and 29 mpg in combined city-highway driving, vs. 31and 28 mpg for the 1.8.
The rival Toyota Yaris sedan starts at $13,685 with shipping and is rated 29/36/32. Honda Fit is $15,220 with shipping and rated 27/33/29.
The low-end Versa lets Nissan advertise a sub-$10,000 car. "People will be drawn to a vehicle at that price," says Jack Nerad, executive market analyst at kbb.com. "They'll be drawn into the showroom and decide, 'Gee, I'd like power windows and air conditioning,' and suddenly a $10,000 car is a $12,000 car — and that doesn't do the manufacturer any harm."
But Castignetti says, "We hope to sell 10,000 a year, which is one-third the (Versa) sedan volume. This is not a bait-and-switch vehicle."
There is no rock-bottom Versa hatchback.
Nissan's 0%/36-month loans and 100%-plus financing — for those with good credit — also apply to Nissan's Rogue and Murano SUVs and Altima and Sentra sedans. Loaning more than a new car's price helps buyers trade-in when they owe more than their old cars are worth, known as upside-down.
Nissan calls the program "Nissan delivers," and will begin advertising it Tuesday.
"After the election, we're looking at a lift. Right now, it's pretty damn ugly," Castignetti says.
In fact, industry sales of new vehicles for October are estimated to have plunged to an annual rate of 11 million, and some companies are bracing for 40% drops vs. last year.
Nissan's September sales were off 38.4% from a year ago, according to Autodata, but down 3.3% the first nine months vs. 12.8% for the industry overall.