Monday, January 12, 2015

Setting a Strong Theme: 2002 Nissan Altima

Some automobile brands are noted for their visual continuity.  That continuity usually takes the form of a grille design theme and perhaps other ornamentation details.  A good example is Packard, which maintained its grille theme for most of its existence while buttressing it with red hexagonal hubcap medallions and a pen-nib spear along the sides of the hood or on front fenders.  And of course there is Rolls-Royce carrying its traditional grille theme for more than 100 years.  While such themes persisted, body shapes changed; 1914 and 2014 Rolls-Royce bodies are utterly different.

Persistence of body design is unusual, though there have been a few exceptions.  Porsche sports cars have looked similar since they first appeared, and the 911 design language has been closely followed for half a century.  Volvos featured boxy shapes for decades, but early and late boxy Volvos looked quite different from one another aside from that boxiness.

The present post features a case where body shape cues have been carried over through three design generations: the Nissan Altima.  As the Wikipedia link mentions, there have been five Altima generations starting with the 1993 model year.  The first and second generations were what are termed "compact" cars here in the USA.  Then for 2002 the Altima was redesigned as a "standard size" American car.  It proved to be a market success (even I bought one) and was restyled for the 2007 and 2013 model years while retaining the same basic theme elements.

Jerry Hirshberg can be credited with the 2002 Altima.  Even though he retired from leading Nissan's American design operation in 2000, he was later featured on Altima television advertising, demonstrating the design theme.  For more on Hirshberg, who now devotes his time to fine art painting, see here and here.  Ignored on those links is that Hirshberg had a successful career at General Motors before being recruited by Nissan.


2015 Nissan Altima
Here is the current Altima.  Note the profile of the car, the shape of the side windows and the character line that rises across the doors and extends to the rear of the car.  These elements were carried over from the 2002 design.

2002 Nissan Altima
A 2002 Altima for comparison.

2002 Nissan Altima - side view
I include this photo because it clearly shows the original rising character line.  It contrasts with the  "greenhouse" top profile that forms a descending slope towards the car's rear.

2002 Nissan Altima - front
Simple, though there is complexity within the headlamp housings.

2005 Nissan Altima - side

2003 (ca.) Nissan Altima rear 3/4 view
Again simple, and again with complexity placed in the light housings.

I have no complaints regarding the 2002 Altima. Yes, others thought the interior fittings were a little on the cheap side (I didn't mind).  I did think that the car seemed a trifle narrow, though that didn't interfere with its use as family transportation and might have reduced frontal area a bit in the interest of aerodynamic efficiency.

And the 2015 Altima?  Too Rococo.

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