Nissan is investing to substantially increase North American production of vehicles sold here, joining its Japanese competitors in efforts to build local as a hedge against the yen.
By 2015, 85 percent of the Nissan and Infiniti models sold in the U.S. will be produced in North America from about 67 percent now, said Carla Bailo, senior vice president of research and development for Nissan Americas.
It is part of a larger corporate goal of 8 percent global market share by 2016 and sustainable 8 percent corporate operating profit, Bailo said
Nissan is market leader in Mexico with 25 percent share, she said. At the end of the 2011 fiscal year in March, U.S. share was a record 8.2 percent. In Brazil, where Nissan was a small player, share has shot up to 25 percent.
Nissan has a raft of investments under way in the Americas and Brazil amounting to $5.2 billion, creating 9,000 new jobs and boosting capacity by 425,000 new vehicles, 250,000 engines and 200,000 lithium ion battery packs.
"We need to mitigate the effect of the yen and increase capacity across North America," Bailo said at the Center for Automotive Research Management Briefing Seminars here.
A day earlier, top executives at Toyota and Honda also outlined plans to increase production and vehicle development in North America to hedge against the strong yen that drives up the cost of building vehicles in Japan as well as to ensure vehicles meet the needs of North American buyers.
"All our core models are made here, which is vital," Bailo said.
Plants in Smyrna, Tenn., and Canton, Miss., make everything from Frontier and Xterra to the new Sentra, Infiniti JX and electric Leaf.
Nissan invested $1.7 million to make the Leaf in Smyrna in December as well as 200,000 lithium ion battery packs a year starting next month.
The Decherd powertrain plant is adding 90 jobs later this year to make electric motors for the Leaf and has extra production. A partnership with Daimler will produce 250,000 engines a year for both automakers in Decherd in 2014, creating up to 400 new jobs.
Nissan will add Rogue production in Smyrna in 2013.
Canton is adding 1,000 jobs in Tennessee to make body-on-frame trucks as well as cars including the new Sentra.
Total Mississippi employment will reach 4,500.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam said 40 percent of new manufacturing jobs in the state are now from the auto industry, with Nissan and Volkswagen as large employers.
"We've realized the spinoff capacity of the auto industry. We've learned when there's an auto industry job we get a lot of other jobs too," Haslam said.
Nissan has two assembly plants in Mexico and is investing $2 billion to build a third in Aguascalientos, which will add 3,000 jobs to make 175,000 subcompact cars in late 2013.
Mexico already supplies the Versa and Sentra for the U.S. A facility in Cuernavaca makes pickups and the tiny Micra subcompact car but not for the U.S. But the plant will add small commercial vans, including the N.Y. taxi, there early next year.
Brazil will make 200,000 Versas a year at a new plant in Resende in 2014, creating 2,000 jobs.
Nissan is the only major Japanese automaker that does not build vehicles in Canada.
Bailo said her job is to ensure any vehicles not built here still meet customer needs.
Based at Nissan's research hub in Farmington Hills, she said U.S. input on product development continues to grow. Over the next three years even more work that used to be done in Japan will come from research centers in the U.S., Mexico and Brazil.
The Farmington Hills facility is adding 150 new jobs to support vehicle engineering and development with 50 positions currently open. Skills sought include chemical and biomedical engineers as automakers pursue alternative powertrains such as fuel cell vehicles as well as the need to measure the impact on the body of new safety technologies.
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