Nissan will ship Mexican cars to the United States for the first time next year and will send some U.S.-built cars and minivans to Mexico.

The strategy reflects Nissan's use of the North American Free Trade Agreement. With NAFTA, Nissan, the only Japanese automaker in Mexico, can move vehicles across the Mexican border much easier.

In May, Nissan's Mexican operations will begin exporting about 2,000 Sentra XE and GXE models a month to the United States.

Nissan will also ship about 1,800 Tennessee-made Altimas and 200 Ford Motor Co.-built Nissan Quests to Mexico in 1995.

Nissan officials have hinted that a North American rationalization is coming. With the changeover to the 1995 Sentra, Nissan now builds virtually identical Sentras and pickups in Mexico and Smyrna, Tenn. The company intends to use the Mexico facility as a relief plant to fill U.S. demand that Smyrna can't handle.

Smyrna has an annual capacity of 450,000 units a year. Production is divided among the Sentra, pickup and Altima. Obtaining lower-end Sentras from Mexico enables Smyrna to build the higher-end GLE, or to build fewer Sentras and more pickups and Altimas.

Nissan Mexicana is also sending a growing volume of products to more than 30 Latin American markets.

This year, Nissan's two Mexican plants will export 60,000 cars and trucks to about 30 markets in Central and South America, up from about 35,000 in 1993.

Nissan would not release its expected Mexican export volume for 1995, but it said the total should rise.

Nissan Mexicana has been shipping two-door Sentras to Canada. But Smyrna will now supply all Sentras for Canada - sedans and the two-door that will be called the 200SX.

Nissan has been in Mexico more than 30 years. Next year, Honda Motor Co. expects to begin Accord production there.

Under Mexican trade rules, carmakers must export goods in order to be able to import goods. The law also requires a manufacturer to assemble vehicles in Mexico in order to be able to sell vehicles there.

You can reach Lindsay Chappell at

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