2006 Detroit Auto Show Index by TCC Team (1/7/2006)
Turnarounds Are Easy
It’s what happens next that’s difficult, said Brad Bradshaw, general manager of the Nissan Division. “It’s always easier to turn around a company than to sustain it, and that’s where we find ourselves now,” he conceded during an interview at the North American International Auto Show. In recent years, Nissan has been on a roll, but analysts say the momentum has slowed a bit, and Bradshaw acknowledged that it will be a challenge to maintain momentum during the “gap” between last year’s light truck launches and the debut of the next-generation Altima and Sentra models later this year.
Nissan will need to significantly improve each new product, he said, with an emphasis on issues like quality and interior refinement. Quality issues proved especially vexing following the 2004 launch of Nissan’s Canton, Miss., assembly plant. The Quest minivan, in particular, scored unexpectedly poorly in surveys such as J.D. Power’s Initial Quality Study (IQS). “If we had to do it over, we would change the order in which we launched products out of that plant,” said Bradshaw. Nissan should have started out with the Titan pickup, “which is much easier to assemble,” Bradshaw said, rather than a complex minivan, like the Quest. In the future, he added, Nissan will take such issues into account when scheduling the launch of new products. And if necessary, it will delay an introduction until it is certain quality issues have been resolved.
Quality is just one of the many issues Nissan will face in 2006. The automaker plans to move its U.S. headquarters from Los Angeles to Nashville in mid-year, and various studies have suggested it could lose as much as 50 percent of its current California workforce in the process. “We have a whole myriad of details” to work through before the move gets underway, said Bradshaw, down to the number of desks that will be needed after the move and inevitable shake-out. The Nissan general manager added that his company is going out of its way to encourage employees to stay with the company. But industry sources say they’ve been seeing a flood of resumes from Nissan employees – many of them from senior ranks – who don’t intend to leave the West Coast.
Toyota Cries for Freedom
Don’t call the F3R Freedom three-row concept vehicle a minivan, insists Jim Lentz, general manager of the Toyota Division. Think of it as a mobile “lifestyle in a box.” A very large box. The show car that will be formally unveiled on Monday was developed by Toyota
’s California-based CALTY advanced designed center as an alternative to the traditional and much-maligned minivan. It borrows many of the basic, utilitarian features of a van, including its three-row seating for up to eight adults. But flip and fold away that center row and you’ve created a lounge on wheels, with what CALTY’s Kevin Hunter calls an “avant garde sofa rear seat,” and a state-of-the-art audio/video system. The interior design and materials are as well-suited for a home as an automobile, according to Toyota
officials. One of the F3R’s most unusual features is its use of three doors per side, rather than a minivan’s sliding rear door. Though minis are among the most utilitarian vehicles on the road, their bulbous styling has disconnected with many consumers, segment sales plunging from a 1.4 million annual peak to barely 1 million today. So while there are no plans to produce the massive machine, Lentz made it clear Toyota
is looking at ways to redefine the minivan, or as some prefer to call it, the “people mover.” The challenge will be to find a way to wrap the most functional of concepts into a more stylish shape.