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Nissan Leaf sales boom a bonus for Australia

Lose some: Infiniti’s all-electric LE has been cancelled along with possible component orders, but Nissan Australia’s casting plant is powering on regardless.

Full steam ahead at Nissan Australia’s casting plant as Leaf sales soar in Europe

Nissan logo21 Jan 2015

BURGEONING global demand for Nissan’s all-electric Leaf spells good news for Nissan Australia’s aluminium casting plant in Victoria, where export business in car components is “busy”.

Even the cancellation by Nissan’s luxury car arm of the Infiniti LE electric car program – which might have provided another outlet for the factory’s specialised castings from this year – is not expected to cause much of a hiccup, thanks to increased orders for Leaf and other products in Nissan’s global portfolio.

The weakening Australian dollar is another factor working in the favour of the Dandenong South plant that, unlike other car company factories in Australia, appears destined for a solid future after coming close to copping the axe in the global financial crisis.

Nissan Australia managing director and CEO Richard Emery told GoAuto: “Nissan’s Australian casting plant continues to be busy due to global demand for our products.”

Employing more than 140 people, the factory casts a number of intricate aluminium components for the electric powertrain of Nissan’s Leaf, as well as other parts such as transmission casings for cars such as the Nissan Navara and X-Trail.

Sales of the Leaf soared 33 per cent in both the United States and Europe last year. In the US, Nissan sold a record 30,200 units – up from 22,610 in 2013.

In Europe, the Leaf was the best-selling electric vehicle last year, notching a record 14,658 sales, despite falling fuel prices.

In Australia, the Leaf achieved 173 sales – down 8.0 per cent on 2013’s tally.

Although Hong Kong-based Infiniti had never confirmed production of its luxury version of the Leaf, the Infiniti LE, it went to the trouble of showing a concept at the 2012 New York motor show and hinted at a 2015 target date for production.

According to a USA Today report quoting Infiniti America’s vice president Michael Bartsch – a former Holden and Porsche Cars Australia sales and marketing executive – the vehicle has been shelved after at first being delayed.

Instead of introducing another niche vehicle, Infiniti will concentrate in higher volume models, he told the American newspaper.

The Nissan casting plant was established in 1982 to supply parts to Nissan Australia’s car manufacturing factory in Clayton.

When Nissan exited Australia car production in 1991, the casting plant was retained to continue supplying overseas Nissan factories and local car-makers.

World-first casting methods developed by Australia’s CSIRO helped the plant win critical Leaf castings business in 2012, while a more energy efficient furnace installed in 2013 helped restore the plant to profitability.

In February last year, then Nissan Australia managing director and CEO Peter Jones told GoAuto that the plant was making two million parts a year for Nissan vehicles built in Japan, Thailand, Mexico and the US.

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