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Japan's Big Three push extremes on speed, flexibility

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. - Within two years, Nissan expects to cut in half - to 14 days - the time that lapses between receiving a vehicle order and delivering the vehicle to customers in Japan.

Nissan's U.S. production managers are working on a parallel timetable.

'It may take longer to do it in the United States, but it won't happen that much later than in Japan,' said Hisayoshi Kojima, Nissan Motor Corp. executive vice president in charge of manufacturing, engineering and powertrain.

Kojima defined the 14-day delivery target for the United States as the time that elapses between the factory receiving an order and the retailer receiving the finished vehicle. In Japan, it represents the time between the factory receiving the order and the customer obtaining it.

Kojima said Nissan takes 25 to 30 days to build a vehicle and deliver it in Japan and about 40 days to do so in North America.

But Nissan is overhauling its global manufacturing systems in an effort to chop time out of the schedule. Its newest factory, a $1 billion truck plant being built in Canton, Miss., will be much more flexible in responding to customer-build orders, Kojima said.

Canton and other Nissan plants are adopting a modular assembly and synchronous delivery plan, which the automaker hopes will allow it to slash inventories, shorten lead times and improve flexibility.

The modular concept will be introduced into existing plants, such as Nissan's 20-year-old truck and Altima plant in Smyrna, Tenn.

The next generation compact pickup will be redesigned to simplify its construction and allow suppliers to create large modules for it.

You can reach Lindsay Chappell at lchappell@crain.com

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