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Detroit show: Nissan Australia looks to the US
Nissan chases American-built Pathfinder – and possibly one more US car for Australia
10 Jan 2012
By RON HAMMERTON in Detroit
THE United States is set to become the next source for Nissan vehicles sold in Australia, bringing the tally of countries supplying models for local customers to six as the ambitious importer reaches out to the four corners of the globe for product.
The new Pathfinder that was unveiled in concept form at this week’s Detroit motor show will become the company’s first vehicle to be imported from America.
And this could be followed by an American-made replacement for the current Maxima sedan – widely thought to be the next US-market Altima mid-sized sedan due out next year.
However, Nissan Australia CEO Dan Thompson told GoAuto at Detroit that sourcing of these products had not yet been locked away, indicating that they might yet go into production elsewhere in the world.
Nissan insiders say the Pathfinder, with its new car-like ‘monocoque’ platform shared with the Infiniti JX luxury SUV, will eventually be built at Nissan plants outside the US.
The same architecture is expected to go under the Maxima replacement, also to be built in North America, probably at the Smyrna factory in Tennessee or possibly Nissan’s Mexican factory that is about to get a major expansion.
Left: Nissan Australia CEO Dan Thompson.
Mr Thompson told GoAuto that Nissan Australia had one of the most diversified and flexible supply systems in the industry – a factor that held it in good stead in the wake of the 2011 natural disasters that badly affected rivals such as Toyota and Honda.
He said Nissan’s core products, including Navara, Micra and X-Trail, all came from different countries, minimising the potential impact of production problems.
“Currently we are pulling vehicles out of five countries, and if we do end up adding the US it will be six,” he said.
“We have spread our core product over four different countries (so) I think more than any other brand we have a perfect balance of diversification.”
Mr Thompson said the strong Australian dollar and the US-Australia free trade agreement had made American-made products viable in the past year.
“For any future product that is coming in the next three to five years, we will look, if available, into the US as an option,” he said.
“It doesn’t mean we will see any one vehicle or multiple models being produced in the US for Australia, but it is certainly a very topical discussion point for us at the moment because of the weak dollar and free trade agreement.”
Mr Thomson said that 12 months ago the weaker Aussie dollar had undermined the business case for American-built product for Australian customers.
“But there is absolutely no doubt that with the dollar being at parity or a little more favourable to us, that it is a very real and viable point of discussion for future product.”
Mr Thompson said the Maxima replacement was expected to land in Australia in Nissan’s 2013 financial year (to March 31) – making it more than 12 months out and probably a 2014 proposition.
The Pathfinder, which goes on sale later this year in the US, is not likely to arrive until the second half of 2013.
Currently, Nissan imports vehicles from Japan, Thailand, the UK, Spain and Indonesia.
Mr Thompson said products sourced from Thailand had been switched around dramatically last year to overcome product shortages, with Micra switched to Indonesia, D40 Navara sent back to the Spanish factory, and the D22 Navara changed to Japan.
“Nissan has a very agile production sourcing flexibility when we need to move, to take advantage of environmental or economic reasons for production restraints or opportunities,” he said.
Mr Thompson said Nissan was still aiming to become the number one full-line importer by the end of the 2012-13 financial year – less than 15 months away.
Although the Japanese-based importer is one of the fastest-growing motor companies in Australia, its market share of 6.7 per cent in 2011 still significantly trails Mazda (8.8 per cent) and Hyundai (8.6) in the race to the importer crown.
Mr Thompson said the company was aiming to have each of its core models in the top three in their segments, with the second-tier products in the top five.
He said the new Pulsar small car – starting in early 2013 – and Micra-based Almera light sedan, which is due in the middle of this year, would be critical to the company’s ambitions, while ultimately the Maxima replacement and Pathfinder would make major contributions.
Nissan Australia hopes to more than quadruple Pathfinder sales to about 10,000 units a year when the less-agricultural fourth-generation model arrives.
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