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Nissan Motor Corp. USA today explodes into the second generation of its three-sedan strategy.

The company is ponying up an estimated $120 million to introduce the all-new 1995 Maxima, the same amount used to back the highly successful debut of the Altima midsize sedan in September 1992.

While several Maxima spots aired last weekend, the blitz begins today, primarily on CBS. Nissan anticipates reaching more than 100 million viewers on what it has dubbed "Maxima Monday."

At a time when Japanese car marketers are struggling with a stubbornly strong yen and a depressed market at home, Nissan not only found the money to back the new Maxima with a sizable introductory ad budget but also managed to drop the base price of the car by more than $1,000. This allows it to advertise the line: "Starting under $20,000."

Positioning the new Maxima with a "responsible luxury" theme, Nissan plans to supplement the TV campaign with an aggressive national print effort using four-page units, outdoor ads in nine markets, and a direct mail promotion to current and past Maxima owners, and those with soon-to-expire leases.

Nissan also purchased a schedule with USA Sky Radio to offer airline passengers free GTE Airfone telephone calls on select airlines to order a Maxima video.

The ads, from Chiat/Day, Venice, Calif., compare features of the Maxima both to its direct competition, the Toyota Camry, and more expensive cars such as the Mercedes C280 and the Lexus ES 300.

The outdoor boards take a direct shot at Lexus' ad theme. "Don't pursue perfection," the headline reads. "Buy it."

Nissan began its transition from a sports car marketer to a sedan company with the introduction of the then-new 1990 Maxima. A year later, it introduced a totally redesigned Sentra subcompact, covering the low end (a new Sentra bows next January). The key to the three-sedan strategy came with the all-new Altima.

Despite the hefty budget supporting the new Maxima, Nissan won't ignore its other models this summer. Between now and Labor Day, a 12-week new campaign will support the Altima, a six-week effort will back the new 1995 240 SX sporty coupe introduced in April and a six-week campaign backs the Sentra.

Automotive News Reporter Mark Rechtin contributed to this story.

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