Sentra comes back to America ... but still no Infiniti G

Automotive News | July 1, 2012 - 12:01 am EST

Nissan dealers are sure to be pleased that the automaker is bringing the Sentra back into U.S. production later this year, in time for the compact's ambitious redesign. The Sentra has been sourced out of Mexico since 2006 -- and it will continue to be manufactured there. But now, it is returning to a convenient U.S. factory, in Canton, Miss., in hopes of competing harder against the Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic.

It's hard to argue with the plan.

But why not an Infiniti model instead?

Nissan Motor Co. CEO Carlos Ghosn said in April that his sales plans for Infiniti are being held back by the fact that all of its models, save the new Tennessee-built JX, are sourced out of Japanese factories, where the strong yen is curtailing profits.

Decrying the uncompetitive yen, Ghosn told a roomful of reporters that "we're going to be moving Infiniti out of Japan in order to give it a little bit more competitiveness." And he added, "We're going to make announcements soon."

It would have been a powerful development for Infiniti if the automaker had announced that the brand's volume-leading G series cars were going into production in Mississippi instead of the Sentra.

Of course, there are technical issues with that. The G is a rear-wheel-drive car and Canton builds the front-wheel-drive Altima. And the G shares its global FM platform with a lot of other products made in Japan -- the Nissan 370Z Roadster and Infiniti FX crossover among them. What would be the unraveling effect of plucking out the platform's high-volume center?

Nissan also has to evaluate Infiniti's global market plans nowadays when it considers a factory location. Once upon a time, the U.S. market was it. Infiniti didn't even sell in Japan -- and still doesn't. Now, the equation for any given Infiniti model has to consider the factory's ability to service Europe, China, Russia, South Korea and Latin America.

But such manufacturing and sourcing challenges matter less and less these days. What matters more is whether a vehicle's retail price squares off against similar models from competing world brands.

Nissan must consider Infiniti’s global market plans when it considers future production sites -- a move prompted by the strong yen.

Nissan executives told international analysts a few weeks ago that Infiniti was seeing slow growth in China this year because its German luxury competitors are fighting a price war against each other in the world's biggest market.

Infiniti dealers had the same problem in the United States last year as BMW and its competitors went after each other here.

The G has the potential to sell 80,000 units a year in the U.S. market, but hasn't been hitting that potential.

Imagine if, last year, Infiniti had been getting its Gs built here in a U.S. factory instead of importing them in yen. And imagine if next year it could.

But first things first. First, Nissan needs to sell more Sentras and Canton had some spare plant capacity. Resolving Infiniti's global sourcing issues is going to take a little more planning.

Lindsay Chappell is the Mid-South bureau chief for Automotive NewsLindsay Chappell is the Mid-South bureau chief for Automotive News

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