YOKOHAMA, Japan--Nissan Motor says there are no sacred cows when it comes to shifting production from Japan to the United States. Even Infiniti output could move.
Nissan will consider which Japan-made models are candidates for building abroad as they undergo model changes, Nissan COO Toshiyuki Shiga said in an interview. Any significant shift may force Nissan to add production capacity in North America, he said.
"If we grow, of course, we need additional capacity," Shiga said.
Nissan's U.S. sales will top 1 million units in 2011 for the first time since 2007, up from 908,570 last year, he predicted.
To meet increasing demand, Nissan will try to squeeze extra local output from factories through additional lines or shifts before building a new plant, Shiga said. The company's two plants in Mexico already are operating around the clock on three shifts.
Rogue on the move
Japan's No. 2 automaker is among the most aggressive in shifting production out of Japan to counter the bite of the yen's rise in value against the dollar and euro. Nissan has announced plans to shift annual production of more than 100,000 Rogue crossovers from Japan to its Smyrna, Tenn., plant in 2013, when the vehicle is scheduled for a redesign.
The Rogue, which was launched in the United States in September 2007, was the Nissan brand's No. 3 seller in 2010 behind the Altima and Versa, with sales of 99,515.
"When you take account of next generations, like the Rogue which we are exporting 100 percent to the United States, there is no economic rationale to continue producing in Japan," he said. "It is not rational to change during the model's life. The timing is for next generations. We will decide it one by one."
Nissan will pay close attention to other vehicles that are made in Japan but mostly geared toward the United States, he said. That could include the Murano crossover and the Quest minivan. It also may include parts of the Infiniti lineup, if exporting from Japan loses its edge.
"There are no exceptions. If I say, 'OK, the Infiniti will not go,' they will think they are safe," Shiga said. The threat of having products sent abroad motivates factories in Japan to innovate, cut costs, and boost efficiency so that exporting against a high yen remains competitive, he said.
"Everybody has concern that under the current yen there's the possibility of moving, even the Infinitis, from Japan to the United States," he said. "This improves the basic competitiveness."
All offerings from Nissan's premium Infiniti brand are made in Japan.
Nissan used to make the Infiniti QX56 SUV in Canton, Miss., but that ended last year. The Infiniti G sedan comes closest to mass volume, with 58,143 sold in the United States in 2010.
The fourth-generation Nissan Quest was redesigned for North America. But Nissan is still making the vehicle in Japan because it shares many parts and a platform with the Japan-market Elgrand minivan. But that, too, Shiga said, could change with future overhauls.