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Exec: Nissan shifting focus to Canton

An automotive industry website published Monday highlights of a wide-ranging interview with a Nissan executive, and the Canton plant was a big part of it.

Colin Dodge, Nissan Americas chairman, said the company is preparing to turn Canton into the international export hub for the next-generation Murano, a small SUV that has become one of Nissan’s more popular models.

To do that, Dodge told autonews.com, Nissan has to move past a series of manufacturing issues that plagued it last year.

“We had some confusion in manufacturing that disturbed our plan, and it wasn’t insignificant,” he said. “I won’t say that everything that could go wrong went wrong, but we had challenges.”

Dodge said the troubles left Canton 15 percent short of its production goals. The facility turned out 233,441 vehicles in 2012, according to Nissan figures.

The issues started when Nissan started producing the Altima midsize sedan in two plants; started making the Infiniti JX; a next-generation Pathfinder; electric Leaf and battery modules in Smyrna, Tenn.; and moved production of the Xterra SUV and Frontier pickup to Canton. The company also increased shifts in two U.S facilities and hired more than 4,000 additional workers to fill them.

Dodge admits the ramp-up “overwhelmed” the company. “I never tried to do something as difficult as that before, and I probably never will again.” Dodge said the company has solved the problems.

During the legislative session that just ended, lawmakers approved $100 million in bonds that will be publicly issued but whose note will be paid by Nissan. It’s believed the bonds will be used for an expansion of Nissan Canton’s supplier park.

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