As Japan’s Nissan aggressively increases its worldwide marketing initiatives, many of the vehicles will be manufactured in the U.S. – offering new jobs and opportunities for the automaker’s American vendors. Along with the enhanced international sales plans comes a strong corporate focus on environmental stewardship geared toward bringing about significant reductions in energy consumption and pollution throughout the production process.
The company is projecting that by 2015 its U.S. factories will nearly double the number of export markets being served.
In August Nissan shipped the first of more than 900 American-made, right-hand drive Pathfinders to Australia and New Zealand, meaning that its Smyrna, Tenn., assembly plant is now exporting to 61 markets across the globe.
Starting in 2014, the company’s factory in Canton, Miss., will become the global source for Murano production, assembling exports destined for as many as 119 international markets.
“Shipping right-hand drive vehicles half way around the world from Tennessee at one time may have seemed exotic to us, but now it’s an increasingly common event on our path to becoming a net exporter,” says Bill Krueger, senior vice president of manufacturing, purchasing, production engineering and supply chain management.
He notes that the expansion to Australia and New Zealand “is just the latest milestone in an aggressive and growing export strategy.” With 12 percent of U.S. production going overseas last year, export volumes are expected to approach 14 percent in 2013 as the company continues to localize global products to the U.S. and launch in new markets around the world.
“While we quickly increase our capacity to satisfy local demand in the region, Nissan’s U.S. plants have been charged to take a lead role in the production of some of our most important global models. As a result, more American-built Nissan vehicles will make their way to more global markets than ever before,” Krueger says.
By the end of this year, Nissan anticipates expanding shipments of its Altima, Pathfinder, Maxima and Infiniti QX60 models into new markets such as Ghana, Nigeria, the Philippines, Vietnam, Israel, Argentina and other parts of Latin America.
In addition, production of 4-cylinder gasoline engines for Infiniti and Mercedes-Benz models will begin in early 2014 at a new Renault-Nissan Alliance powertrain plant in Decherd, Tenn. The project is a joint venture with Daimler, with a capacity of 250,000 units per year.
Nissan’s production capacity will eclipse 2 million units throughout the North, South and Central American continents by early 2014, driven by recently added capacity at its U.S. plants along with new facilities in Mexico and Brazil.
“In response to strong growth opportunities throughout the region and in an effort to isolate the company from volatility in global currencies, Nissan is rapidly expanding its manufacturing footprint in the Americas region with an investment of more than $5 billion in new plants and increased production volumes,” according to Krueger. The company is adding more than 10,000 jobs across the region.
Nissan reports that it has been the market share leader in Mexico for 50 consecutive months, and that this growth is to be further bolstered by a new $2-billion manufacturing complex, supplier park and quality proving ground in Aguascalientes, Mexico.
Now nearing completion, during the initial phase of development the site will annually support production of up to 175,000 units of the firm’s “B” platform vehicles while complementing two existing Mexican manufacturing facilities in Aguascalientes and Cuernavaca.
Construction is also in progress on a new $1.5 billion manufacturing complex in Resende, Brazil, which will have annual capacity of 200,000 “V” Platform vehicles. Production is slated to begin during the first half of 2014. It is the inaugural plant of its kind for Nissan in South America, designed to provide “much-needed production volume” to support the company’s goals for Brazilian market share growth. In 2012 Nissan was the top-growing automaker in Brazil for the third consecutive year.
The automaker is equally intent on becoming ecologically sound by actively seeking to lower energy consumption while emitting fewer pollutants.
With the recent additions of the Infiniti QX60 and the Leaf, and with production of the Rogue on the way to the Smyrna, Tenn., operation, the company has added the “most advanced paint plant in the world that sets new standards for quality, efficiency and environmental impact,” says Susan Brennan, Smyrna’s vice president of manufacturing. The system is capable of reducing energy consumption by 30 percent, carbon emissions by 30 percent and volatile organic compound (VOCs) emissions by 70 percent.
A three-wet paint process applies all three paint layers in succession before the vehicle goes into the oven. Previous processes required a dehydration process between the primer application and the topcoat layers. Implementation of this new technology reduces energy consumption, cost and emissions while increasing production efficiency, according to Brennan, who adds that the facility is the automaker’s “Showcase Project” as part of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Better Buildings Better Plants Challenge; the company has committed to a 25 percent reduction in energy consumption at its three U.S. plants by 2020.
“These efforts align with our global strategies of zero-emission leadership and corporate social responsibility to employees, stakeholders and customers,” Brennan says.
Important accolades have been bestowed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Energy Star program, including the “2013 Partner of the Year– Sustained Excellence Award.”
“Since becoming an Energy Star partner in 2006, we have saved more than 800 billion BTUs (British thermal units) in our vehicle assembly process,” says Krueger, adding that the energy reductions are enough to power the company’s Leaf electric vehicle for more than 750 million miles.
He reports that the Decherd, Tenn., powertrain plant recently achieved “Energy Star Challenge for Industry” recognition for lowering the amount of energy needed to assemble engines by 7 percent in just 12 months by investing in more efficient equipment and establishing a compressed air leak reduction program.
In Mexico Nissan has expanded a green energy program so that 50 percent of the energy used by the Aguascalientes Vehicle Assembly Plant comes from renewable resources that include wind power and landfill gas. For more than a year, the plant has used a wind farm in southern Mexico and methane from garbage at the city dump – cutting the factory’s utility costs by more than 10 percent.
The program leverages Mexico’s largest wind farm, which consists of 35 large wind turbines located some 600 miles away. The wind replaces about 5.3 million gallons of fuel oil. The company also currently gets about 5 percent of its power from generators that run on methane from a local landfill with aims to almost double that. The biogas that is produced from the breakdown of organic matter is used as fuel. One of the limiting factors is the availability of trash. “If we had access to more, we’d use it,” says Marco Antonio Rivera, Nissan’s Mexican senior manager for energy and environment.
Rivera adds that nearly 100 percent of recyclable materials at the plant are indeed recycled, and that the automaker’s green energy program will be extended to the Cuernavaca Vehicle Assembly Plant and to the new Aguascalientes 2 facility scheduled to open later this year.
The new Resende plant in Brazil aims to become “one of the most sustainable facilities in the world.” It features a “Green Belt” that encircles the entire complex, and is designed to help neutralize CO2 emissions while also reducing noise levels at the factory for the surrounding environment. Construction of wetlands also will help to balance the area ecosystem.
The Resende site, which will build the March and Versa models when it opens next year, is to boast integrated production methods, modern and efficient equipment and waste management methods “that together will significantly enhance the plant’s environmental friendliness,” according to company executives who are implementing the “Nissan Green Program 2016” initiative.
Nissan expects the Resende location to have the one of the lowest rates of CO2 emissions in the world among auto plants. Raw materials will be sourced near the site to reduce CO2 emissions in transport. Use of state-of-the-art equipment and production technologies, “including the most modern robots,” will additionally provide greater energy efficiency. The plant’s design also allows for natural light to further reduce energy use.
Resende will use water-based ink, which is more environmentally friendly and will use ink cartridges in painting robots, which significantly reduces the waste based on the lower discharge of ink and solvent. The process also increases the average efficiency of ink usage from an average today of about 30 percent.
Seeking to operate at 80 percent environmental efficiency, a pattern of significant recycling and efficient use of resources is designed to achieve one of the lowest rates of landfill use by June 2015. The goal is to have less than 0.5 percent of the plant’s resources become unusable waste.
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