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Commercial vehicle production begins 2010

Nissan-Canton retooling underway

In the midst of all the bad news coming out of the automobile industry, Nissan North America had some good news to share recently. The conversion of its Canton plant from producing strictly automobiles, minivans and pick-up trucks to one making passenger vehicles as well as new commercial vehicles (CVs) is underway, and production is scheduled to begin next year.

“The expansion at our Canton plant represents a major step on the way to Nissan’s entering the commercial vehicle market in North America,” said Dan Bednarzyk, vice president, manufacturing-Canton. “We realize this initiative means growth for Nissan in the U.S., and we are proud these important products for the future of our company will be built here in Mississippi.”

Last April, Nissan announced that it would modify its Canton plant to produce CVs. It will be the only Nissan plant in the U.S. to produce the vehicles and marks Nissan’s entry into the CV market in North America.

In total, the project’s cost is $118 million. The project includes:

• A 14,400-square-foot expansion to the Body Assembly Shop, as well as modification to 43,200 square feet of the shop

• A 49,000-square-foot expansion to the Paint Shop and modification to 59,000 square feet of the shop

• A new assembly line added in the existing Trim and Chassis Shop

When Nissan made the announcement about the plant retooling last April, it gave the target date for production startup in early 2010. The company has moved that date back slightly. Bednarzyk said that production is now slated to begin in mid-2010.

Bednarzyk could not forecast production volume, but said Nissan would monitor the market and respond accordingly.

To make room for the CVs, Nissan-Canton will suspend production of three models — the Titan pick-up truck, Quest minivan and Infinity QX56. Production of those vehicles will be moved overseas to Japan. (The 3.5-million-square-foot Canton plant will continue to make the Altima sedan and the Armada full-size SUV.)

However, employment is expected to hold steady at the Nissan plant, which currently has a workforce of approximately 3,400 employees.

Bednarzyk said Nissan expects no interruptions to current operations from the new construction.

At the March 4 press conference, Bednarzyk said the shift to CVs was not a reaction to poor market conditions, but rather the company filling a market void. He pointed out that when Nissan made the announcement last April, the company did not know that automobile sales would slump as badly as they have.

While U.S. production of CVs is new, Nissan is far from a rookie in that segment, Bednarzyk said. Nissan has been in the CV business for more than 70 years. He said Nissan holds an impressive global market share in that segment of roughly 75 percent. And, while auto sales are down at Nissan and other manufacturers, Nissan actually saw an eight percent increase in CV sales worldwide in fiscal year 2008.

Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at wally.northway@msbusiness.com.

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