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Canton-assembled vehicles top customer surveys

Canton — Arnita Tobias and Ralph Williams represent part of what the Nissan manufacturing plant means to Mississippi.

Both moved from McComb to Canton to work in the facility and experience the benefits afforded by the large auto maker.

They were among other employees on hand to accept leading industry awards from the J.D. Power and Associates 2006 Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study.

Nissan has five segment-leading models, more than any other brand. They are Murano, Titan and Armada and Infiniti M and QX56. Three of the award-winning vehicles are assembled at the Canton plant.

Tobias and Williams, who are cousins, work on the three award-winning vehicles. Tobias is a spot welder in the body shop, making sure vehicles leave with no dings and bats. “I’m excited,” she said. “It makes me feel good and lets me know we’re doing our job.”

Williams, who’s the lead technician in trim and chassis, makes sure that all quality is being met. He agrees with Tobias that accepting the awards is a big event for the young plant. “It’s a great achievement,” he said.

Vice president for manufacturing, Nissan North America Dave Boyer called the recognition “another positive event in our historic launch of five new vehicles in eight months time.”

“It’s a benchmark and we continue to make gains according to the J.D. Power surveys,” he said. “These new awards add to the honor roll. We’re proud of the level we’ve come to. I see it in the plant. The employees are committed to doing it every day.”

The J.D. Power study, now in its 11th year, measures owner delight with the design, content, layout and performance of their new vehicles. It was redesigned for 2006 to provide better coverage of new technologies that didn’t exist previously.The study finds that all-new models or models that have undergone a major redesign generally receive APEAL scores that are higher than average. This is critical since models with higher APEAL scores tend to have more satisfied owners, sell more quickly and generate more profit.
The study focuses on what satisfies customers during the first three months of ownership. More than 63,000 purchasers and leasees of new 2006 model-year cars and trucks were surveyed.

The Nissan awards were presented by Steve Carroll, executive vice president with J.D. Power and Associates. He stated that the global marketing firm is also a performance improvement company.

“Nothing fires us up more than that. Nissan does this better than anybody in the industry and that is APEAL,” he said. “No other manufacturer has won more than three award segments.”
He added that Nissan’s Armada almost made a clean sweep and that it, along with the Titan and QX56, connects with customers. “We think about APEAL as things that have grown right,” he said. “It shows that Nissan has team work and they are committed to employee training and to quality. They are also committed to bringing products to the market while they’re in demand.”

In these days of rising gasoline prices, Nissan must continue to meet the challenge along with competitors who’re coming after them every day, Carroll said.

Dan Gaudette, senior vice president for Nissan’s North American Manufacturing and Supply Chain Management, praised the Canton plant by saying the work done here is the same as the work done at the Smyna, Tenn., plant that has been in production 23 years.

“This is a red letter day for us,” he said, “and a vivid reminder that what we do is to deliver on promises every day. We meet the needs of customers and we’re capturing their imaginations and hearts. These awards represent how customers feel about us.”

As to rising fuel costs, Gaudette said people still want the large products that won the awards. “We’re taking steps to make them more energy efficient, and we’re seeing no downturn in sales,” he said. “Americans still want large vehicles. We’re addressing this issue and I think customers will adjust their driving and spending habits to drive them.”

He and Boyer said the standard course for Nissan is to work on improvement every day. That includes working on ethanol-powered models and putting fuel converters on all vehicles. Regarding Altima recalls, Gaudette said Nissan is working with suppliers to assure the quality of all products, testing and certifying that all criteria are met. The model is Nissan’s highest volume seller and is not made in Canton.

“Everyone is concerned about our products,” Gaudette said. “We work early in the program to ensure quality and we are addressing the Altima question.”

The Canton plant has 6,000 employees and no cutbacks are anticipated. Boyer said one of the facility’s strengths is that several different vehicles can be made there. “We can do it with no fanfare,” he said. “Our employees are trained to do that.”

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at llofton656@aol.com

About Lynn Lofton

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