DAILY IN DEPTH
The “Crazy” Canton Rollout
With the approaching publication of the grimly-titled book, The End of Detroit, (Doubleday/Random House), an object lesson in why the Big Three lost their domination of the U.S. market is drawing attention to the new Nissan assembly plant in Canton, Miss. Veteran Forbes Magazine (September 29) auto writer Micheline Maynard’s tome centers attention on the steady inroads of foreign automakers, covering Nissan’s attainment of the number-one productivity ranking at its 20-year-old plant in Smyrna, Tenn., and the construction of the first North America plant charged with building an unprecedented five models under one roof — in Canton.
Under the headline, “Overdrive,” Forbes raises a question about Canton that automakers in the Motor City have themselves asked about the Mississippi initiative: “Is Nissan crazy to launch 5 models in a year at its new factory?”
Canton is a tiny town, nearly completely African-American in population, and has never had a manufacturing plant — let alone a highly automated auto assembly facility. But, as auto writer Joann Muller points out, Nissan Motor CEO Carlos Ghosn is nothing if not a successful gambler — having led Renault’s takeover and resuscitation of Nissan since 1999. When Nissan’s rebirth led to an industry-topping gross profits margin of nearly eleven percent of sales, the Canton plant decision was green-lighted in Paris. Throwing caution to the winds, as have stylists on a number of 2003-04 models, Ghosn decided to build the equivalent of two plants in a single project. From its opening last May, Canton has the capacity to assemble 250,000 trucks, SUVs and minivans in a year — plus 150,000 Altimas and 15,000 new Infiniti SUVs in the deluxe brand’s first domestic rollout. Impressive, to say the least.
First of the quintet to be assembled at Canton was the redesigned Quest minivan, followed this summer by the all-new Pathfinder Armada full-size SUV. Next, and most eagerly awaited, is the new Titan full-size truck slated for a December 1 sales date. The next-generation Altima will enter the lineup next year, as will the Infiniti SUV using the Armada platform. Totally flexible from the get-go, unlike Smyrna, Canton can intersperse Armadas and Quests on the same line, even though the pair have different chasses. Canton has 850 robots which scan individual serial numbers and “pluck” just the right piece of steel — all done at a just-in-time pace which moves seats steadily from a new nearby Johnson Controls plant to designated spots on conveyor lines for instant installment on designated vehicles. Some 5300 employees ramped up to production on 350 Quest minivans a day in eight weeks, triggering the Armada startup ten days earlier than planned — prompting Forbes to assert, “If it can keep that up, maybe Nissan’s not so crazy after all.”
TCC’s Ten Cool Cars of ‘04
by Bengt Halvorson
Grab your driving gloves, get your shades, and maybe call your broker, too.
FROM THE SOURCE headlines from the latest press releases
Lexus announced today that the thoroughly revised 2004 LS430 would maintain its price position in the competitive premium luxury sedan field with a manufacturer’s suggested retail price of $55,125. The restyled LS adds several new and advanced features such as a six-speed automatic transmission, Adaptive Front lighting System, and driver and passenger knee airbags as standard equipment. New luxury amenities as well as a moonroof and power rear sunshade are also standard for 2004.