NASHVILLE, Tenn. - As long as the car market remains sluggish, Nissan will continue to ratchet down production of U.S.-built vehicles.
That could mean cutting thousands of additional units of Sentras, 200SXs, Altimas and Frontier pickups out of this year's build plan.
The company's Smyrna, Tenn., plant already has cut six days of production from its schedule for this quarter.
At a speech last week at the Automotive News Southeast Conference, Jerry Benefield, Nissan Motor Manufac-turing Corp. U.S.A. CEO, said the company also is adjusting line speeds to reduce production.
Benefield said that Nissan, as a start, is trimming about 15,000 units, but additional days probably will be cut from the schedule.
'We still have a lot of inventory,' Benefield acknowledged. On April 1, the company had approximately 225,000 vehicles in stock, or a 127-day supply - double the industry's generally accepted target.
Nissan's Smyrna plant is one of North America's largest, capable of building 450,000 vehicles a year, or about 1,800 a day. Trimming U.S. output rarely has been necessary since Nissan began manufacturing here in 1983.
But Benefield vowed no Nissan workers will be laid off during the soft market.
Nissan has lived by that policy in the past. In 1988, Nissan encountered a slow sales period that also left thousands of Nissans unsold. Rather than lay off workers then, Benefield sent many through additional training programs until sales picked up.
Benefield said soft Sentra sales were the key issue for Nissan's inventory glut.
He blamed it on two factors: low fuel prices and the availability of high-quality near-new cars. He said potential Sentra buyers often can move up to an off-lease Maxima for a small increase in their monthly payments.
Nissan is slowly phasing the Sentra out of Smyrna. Nissan's plant in Aguascalientes, Mexico, will build all Sentras for North America.
Benefield said that a new sport-utility, based on the Frontier pickup, is on schedule to begin production in Tennessee next year.