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Nissan Oz chasing more EV parts trade

Local business: Federal opposition leader Tony Abbott (left) with Nissan Australia managing director and CEO Dan Thompson in a Nissan Leaf today.

Mystery electric vehicle from Nissan might get Australian-made castings

Nissan logo5 Oct 2011

NISSAN Australia has made a pitch to export aluminium castings for a future, unnamed Nissan electric vehicle (EV) as part of a plan to expand its local component manufacturing business that is already preparing to make castings for the all-electric Leaf from next year.

The company’s local parts operation – which currently produces two million cast-aluminium parts a year for 28 Nissan models made around the world – is also talking with its Japanese head office about a proposal to expand into complex, value-added components such as suspension assemblies.

And with the start of local production today of Nissan genuine accessories at the Nissan Casting Plant at Dandenong, Victoria, as a sideline to its casting business, the company is eyeing accessory sales to other car companies in Australia, as well as Nissan distributors overseas.

However, the bold plans for the future are dependent on business cases that add up under the cost burden of the federal government’s carbon tax that the company says will gravely impact the plant’s costs.

The 30-year-old plant – which came close to being shut last year as it struggled to be cost-competitive – currently makes 42 different parts for Nissan vehicles made in Britain, Thailand, Mexico, the United States and Japan.

From next year, these parts will include three castings for the all-electric Nissan Leaf, to be produced at the rate of 22,000 a month.

 center imageLeft: Tony Abbott with Nissan corporate vice-president in charge of powertrain, Atushi Hirose, at the opening announcement. Below: Various Nissan components, including the new locally-made to bar.

The casting of the Leaf components is already being trialled at the factory, which received a federal green car innovation fund grant to help fund the project.

The electric vehicle casting business might grow in future, with Nissan Australia bidding for a supply contract for another, unnamed electric vehicle to be built by the Japanese company.

Nissan is on record as saying it will expand its EV range beyond Leaf, with an all-electric van being one of three or four EVs under development.

Nissan corporate vice-president in charge of powertrain, Atushi Hirose, said at today’s ceremony to mark the start of accessory production that the Australian plant was unique in that it combined both casting and fabricated component production.

He said the combination of these processes on the same site could provide future opportunities for Nissan manufacturing.

“My feeling is that there is a major opportunity,” he said, adding that the cost equation of manufacturing in Australia remained “difficult”.

These components might include accessories or car component assemblies that include both cast and fabricated components, all produced and assembled at the one point.

Nissan Australia executive general manager aftersales Tony Carraturo – whose realm also includes the casting plant – named transmissions and suspension assemblies as the type of value-added components Nissan Australia would like to add to its production portfolio at Dandenong.

He said building sub-assemblies from castings made at the factory, combined with other components, could lead to savings on logistics and lead times.

He said accessories with a mix of cast and fabricated components might also be on the agenda.

So far, none of the accessories earmarked for production at the plant use aluminium castings.

The local accessory business has started production with just one product – steel tow bars for Nissan vehicles at the rate of 30,000 a year – but will expand its range to include Navara sports bars in early 2012 and nudge bars in early 2013.

These items were previously made in Asia, but Nissan Australia decided to bring them in-house in Australia to help generate business for its struggling casting plant and shield itself from currency fluctuations.

Nissan Australia managing director Dan Thompson said the first priority of the plant was to perfect the quality of its new accessories.

Mr Thompson said that, once the process was satisfying the needs of Nissan’s Australian customers, the company would look to sell the products to others, including Nissan distributors in the Middle East and South Africa, as well as Australian car-makers.

He said the local Nissan plant could compete with Asian-made accessories, adding that the locally made tow bars were cheaper to make at Nissan’s Dandenong plant than those imported from Asia.

Nissan has invested heavily in robotics for accessory production at the plant to maximise productivity, with machines doing functions such as automatic welding of tow bars and polishing of nudge bars.

The company says 20 jobs have been created by the business, with more to come as other products come on stream.

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