Grand Ole Sushi

It isn't often an auto maker moves its headquarters 2,000 miles, especially from sunny Southern California, home to a booming car culture. But Nissan North America Inc. will say so long to SoCal and howdy to Nashville to take advantage of a friendlier, less-costly business environment. Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. CEO Carlos Ghosn also wants headquarters to be nearer Nissan's U.S. plant operations in Smyrna,

It isn't often an auto maker moves its headquarters 2,000 miles, especially from sunny Southern California, home to a booming car culture.

But Nissan North America Inc. will say so long to SoCal and howdy to Nashville to take advantage of a friendlier, less-costly business environment.

Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. CEO Carlos Ghosn also wants headquarters to be nearer Nissan's U.S. plant operations in Smyrna, TN.

It is just one of the big changes on tap for the North American arm of the Japanese auto maker.

While 2005 was slow for Nissan, with no vehicle launches besides the new Infiniti M in the first quarter, 2006 is shaping up to be busy.

After re-doing its entire light truck lineup in recent years, Nissan now shifts its focus to cars.

This year, Nissan will debut the Mexico-built Versa subcompact, sold in Japan as the Tiida.

The next-generation Sentra and Altima also are due, as is Nissan's first-ever hybrid-electric vehicle, the Altima Hybrid. In the spring, its Infiniti luxury brand will launch the next-generation of the vehicle that led its renaissance, the G35 sedan and coupe.

Nissan was bruised last year when high gas prices hurt its light truck sales.

Still, NNA's 2005 sales likely will top 1 million for the first time in a calendar year, standing at 908,448 through October.

But an uncharacteristic October sales drop of 13.3% compared to year-ago caused Nissan to dial back production of its light trucks in favor of cars and cross/utility vehicles, says Jed Connelly, NNA's senior vice president-sales and marketing.

No sales projections for the Versa have been released, but Connelly says it will have “a tremendous value story” and start at around $12,000.

The Sentra replacement, delayed a year due to negative consumer focus group feedback, is to debut next summer. The new midsize Altima will launch shortly thereafter. Both are critical to Nissan's continued success in the U.S. market.

“We're hopeful there'll be some nominal increase (in Sentra sales),” says Connelly of the next-generation model. “There's been a bit of resurgence in Sentra at the end of its life cycle because of fuel economy and some of the other issues.”

However, he admits Sentra last year relied on hefty incentives to move the 6-year-old current-generation model.

Nissan, while using incentives more than Honda or Toyota, still is at about 60% of the industry average, he says.

As for the U.S. auto industry overall, Connelly echoes Ghosn, his boss, who believes this year will be rough for the U.S. auto industry in general.

“I think it's well served to be cautious,” says Connelly.

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