2012 Nissan Maxima - black - front three-quarter dynamic view

Nissan has already tipped its hand, revealing that it will introduce five new models over the next 15 months. Those five models include the Altima, Pathfinder, Sentra, Versa hatchback and Rogue. Of those, we've already spent some time with the Altima, and its improved performance, upscale interior and slightly larger dimensions once again had us wondering if there was still a need in Nissan's portfolio for the pricier Maxima.

Apparently, there is. Despite the Max sharing the Altima's basic platform and powertrains for some time now, Nissan says its most expensive sedan is viewed differently by consumers. Officials we spoke with at the Altima's launch in Tennessee this week noted that the company sold about 59,000 examples last year, of which some 51,000 went to actual retail customers. For those keeping track of such things, Nissan says that actually makes Maxima America's top retailing non-luxury V6 sedan, Number One in a catch-all segment that includes everything from the Buick LaCrosse to the Ford Taurus, Hyundai Azera, Toyota Avalon and Volkswagen CC (not to mention six-cylinder versions of cars like the Chrysler 300, Dodge Charger and Hyundai Genesis). The current Maxima has been on sale since 2008 and received a very minor facelift for 2012.

According to J.D. Power and its Power Information Network data, those purchases transacted at around $30,000, well above the Altima's $24,000 sales sweet spot.

Add all this up, and you get a solid business case for the next-gen Maxima, on which work has just kicked off in earnest now that the company's decks have been cleared of the Altima. Officials declined to nail down a timeframe for us, but given what we know about Nissan's product cadence over the next 12 months or so, we suspect the eighth-generation Maxima will arrive for 2015. Given the current car's quiet sales success, we don't expect the next Maxima to radically change the formula, so exorcise any thoughts you have about a shift to rear- or all-wheel-drive architecture. The original Maxima arrived in 1980 as a RWD sedan but made the shift to FWD in 1984 and hasn't looked back since.
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