Nissan: 400,000-plus Altimas no problem
NEW YORK -- Nissan North America is preparing to make U.S. factory changes that will yield enough Altimas to finally challenge its prime mid-sized competitor, the Toyota Camry.
Nissan has long been at a mathematical disadvantage to Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co. in North America. Both competitors have the factory muscle to build 450,000 mid-sized sedans a year or more. Nissan can only build about 300,000 Altimas a year at two plants.
But that is about to change.
With Altima sales booming as it ends its model cycle and a redesigned Altima set to launch in late June, Nissan intends to squeeze its existing resources to create more capacity this year.
The automaker will increase the line-speed of Altima production this fall in Canton, Miss., where it is already building the car on three shifts a day. That will give the company an additional 30,000 Altimas a year, Bill Krueger, vice chairman of Nissan Americas, said at the New York auto show.
At the same time, Nissan will add a third shift at its plant in Smyrna, Tenn., yielding another 170,000 vehicles a year.
Krueger said the changes will be more than adequate to keep up with Nissan's retailers.
The third shift at Smyrna is not exclusively for the Altima, he clarified. The flexible assembly line will be able to swing between a number of vehicles there, as sales dictate.
But right now, it is the Altima that is demanding attention. In March, Nissan retailed a record 41,050 Altimas -- a volume of more than 490,000 if it continued for 12 months. Krueger said the two U.S plants would be able to sustain that level of sales with no problem.
The capacity race has not been a hot priority for Nissan until recently. In past years, Nissan did well to sell 280,000 Altimas a year while the Camry and Accord routinely sold between 350,000 and 400,000. Last year, Nissan sold fewer than 270,000 Altimas.
But the Altima has been on the upswing. It has stepped past the No. 2 Accord and is now rivaling the Camry for the No. 1 spot in the segment for the first time. Last month, the Altima was just 1,517 sales behind the Camry.
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