OAK BROOK, IL – Nissan says it will add 500 new workers at its Canton, MS, plant in preparation for the production of the new ’15 Murano CUV.
But the automaker won't say when Job 1 will be, how many Muranos the plant will build the first year and what potential there is for adding a second shift for the new model.
Canton production marks the first time since the Murano bowed in 2003 that it will be built outside Japan.
“No dates (for Job 1) have been set, there's no production number either and we aren't saying anything about second-shift plans,” Scott Pak, senior product manager in charge of crossovers, tells WardsAuto in an interview at a Chicagoland Murano preview for the Midwest Automotive Media Assn.
The 500 new jobs will boost plant employment to 6,000.
Pak says the new-generation Murano will emphasize design and continue to compete in the near-luxury segment, while the Infiniti brand handles high-lux buyers.
“Murano is a production model with styling that looks like a concept,” Pak boasts.
“It will be a vehicle for those who want the finer things, but don't need the luxury badge,” he adds, noting, for example, that the ’15 Murano cabin doesn't come with wood trim that's a “traditional luxury” trademark.
“We aren't going to add high tech just for the sake of adding high tech. Features must be easy to use and understand. We aren't going to add things that take 50 pages in the owner's manual to explain.”
But, Pak says features that typically distinguish low-end vehicles from high-end models are starting to blur among consumers.
“The world is moving fast and there are greater expectations even among low-end buyers who expect more features, such as a rear-view camera, lane-departure warning, USB ports and Bluetooth to be available,” he says, adding that while consumers want those amenities to be available in all vehicles, the price of those features determines if they end up buying them.
In addition to Murano, Nissan previewed its Smart Rearview Mirror technology, which has been applied to a new-for-’14 Rogue CUV for demonstration purposes. But once again, mum is the word on production plans and whether the Rogue is designated to be the initial beneficiary of the industry-first option in the U.S.
"We will add the Smart Rearview Mirror technology in Japan this year as a limited-availability accessory, but we aren't saying when we'll offer it in the U.S. other than after the 2015 model year, what the price will be or what vehicle we will offer it in," says Tony Baehner, a senior product manager for Nissan who specializes in technology.
The Smart Mirror employs a camera mounted in the rear of the car to help provide a clear view of what is behind the vehicle, shown on the traditional rear-view mirror at the front of the cabin using an LCD in the mirror glass.
Using a camera in back removes any obstructions inside the cabin that may otherwise interfere with the view, such as headrests or other occupants. The driver can use the conventional mirror when needed or switch to "Smart" viewing in which the camera sends its images to the LCD in the mirror instead to help provide a clear image in rain or snow, dawn or dusk, Baehner says.
Regardless which vehicle offers Smart Mirror first, it will be available eventually in a variety of Nissans.
"You'll see it in crossovers, SUVs, and vans – wherever we see the most need."
With so much industry-wide fuss being made recently over the eventual appearance of autonomous cars, Baehner says Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn has promised a car that drives itself by 2020, and the troops are going to follow the leader's marching orders.
“(But) we recognize work still needs to be done on self-driving cars,” he says.
The new Rogue, which bowed last fall, is doing well in the market. Sales through May are up 32.6% to more than 84,000 units. Total Nissan vehicle deliveries year-to-date are up 13.9% to more than 544,000 units.
Meanwhile, officials say hybrid versions of Rogue and Murano are “under consideration and being studied,” but that full electric and plug-in hybrid versions “aren't being looked at now.”
Asked if there was anything in the CUV lineup Nissan needs, other than hybrids, Pak quickly replies, “Nothing is missing; we have the segment well covered.”
A Murano cabrio will not be making a return appearance, he says, and there are no plans for a third-row seat.
“Murano buyers don't want a third seat,” Pak says. “If a buyer wants a third row, we have Pathfinder.”