Nissan hints at building new U.S. assembly plant

Nissan operates the most productive auto assembly plant in all of North America in Smyrna, Tenn., pictured, but also imports several models from Japan and is the top car producer in Mexico.

Nissan Motor Co. is squeezing all it can from its U.S. assembly plants and will need to build a new factory if it keeps growing in the lucrative American auto market, a top executive said.

"At some point, we may need it," Jose Munoz, the chairman of Nissan North America, said in reference to more U.S. production capacity. The addition would have to be a standalone new factory because the company's existing plants in Tennessee and Mississippi are "maxed out," Munoz said during an interview in Detroit.

Building another factory in the U.S. would likely appease President Donald Trump, who has pressured Japanese car manufacturers to make more vehicles in America. While Nissan already has the most productive auto plant in all of North America in Smyrna, Tenn., the company also imports several models from Japan and is the top car producer in Mexico.

Trump prodded Japanese automakers during a visit to Tokyo earlier this month to "try building your cars in the United States instead of shipping them over." He praised Toyota Motor Corp. and Mazda Motor Corp.'s plan to build a $1.6 billion joint car factory at a still-undecided U.S. site, an investment that Trump called "big stuff."

Nissan's U.S. sales have increased about 70 percent over the last six years, and the automaker's strategic plan through 2022 calls for further expansion, Munoz said. The company sold about 1.6 million cars and trucks in the U.S. last year.

More than 8,000 workers make vehicles and battery packs at Nissan's Tennessee complex that produced more than 640,000 autos last year, including Leaf electric cars, Altima and Maxima sedans and Infiniti QX60 sport utility vehicles. Its Mississippi operation employs 6,400 people making Titan pickups, cargo vans and Altima sedans among others.

"The strategy of localization has allowed us to grow big-time in the states," Munoz said.

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