Jerry Benefield makes a surprising forecast as he completes a decade of running Nissan Motor Manufacturing Corp. U.S.A.: The automaker's universe of suppliers is becoming smaller - not larger.
Geographically speaking, that is.
After 10 years of expanding Nissan's North American purchasing, with new links with some of Detroit's oldest U.S. suppliers, Nissan is seeing the distances its parts travel shrink.
'When we started, we were a fairly small unknown,' recalls Bene-field, a onetime manager of Ford Motor Co.'s Dearborn, Mich., plant. 'If a supplier did business with us, he'd ship from his existing plant in Michigan or Ohio or Illinois.
'Now, as we get bigger and more important, our universe is getting more compact,' says Benefield, an Atlanta native who raises Tennessee Walking Horses when he's not at the $1.5 billion Smyrna, Tenn., factory. 'I believe that as you see the other automakers of this region grow - Toyota, BMW, Mercedes - you'll see most of our suppliers operating right here.'
The business case is a good one. When Nissan built its first pickup 15 years ago in 1983, it was one of just a few auto plants in the Southeast. Since then, Nissan has doubled production and doubled it again to 450,000 units a year. Saturn Corp. opened nearby with capacity of 280,000 cars a year. Toyota Motor Manufacturing Kentucky appeared, with a 500,000-unit annual capacity. BMW Manufacturing Corp. has built a 90,000-car factory in Spartanburg County, S.C., and Mercedes-Benz U.S. International Inc. is expanding to 75,000 sport-utilities a year.
Proximity may be a factor in awarding upcoming contracts.
'All things being equal, the guy who's closest to us might get the business,' Benefield says. 'Just-in-time delivery is more important to us than ever.'
In the coming years, Nissan's suppliers will share an added bonus: Smyrna will handle much of the purchasing and logistics for components going into Nissan Mexicana. Notes Benefield: 'If you're located here, you're a lot closer to Mexico than somebody in Detroit.'