Six months ago, the automaker was scrambling to get rid of unsold cars. Today Nissan North America Inc. is asking two of its factories to give it more vehicles.
Nissan has asked its Smyrna, Tenn., plant to increase production plans for the upcoming Xterra sport-utility. And it has requested more output of the new Nissan Quest minivan from Ford Motor Co. Ford builds the Quest and the Mercury Villager off the same platform at Ford's Avon Lake, Ohio, factory.
'The Quest is hot,' said Mike Seergy, Nissan Division general manager. 'We think we can sell more of them.'
Nissan executives met with their regional factory sales managers in Phoenix earlier this month and learned that retailers want more minivans. Seergy says Nissan has told Ford it wants 2,000 to 3,000 more Quests a month.
Turning out 24,000 to 36,000 more vehicles hardly would have been a problem for Ford in recent years as the twin vans sagged in the market. The Avon Lake factory can build 135,000 minivans a year at full capacity. Nissan sold just over 30,000 Quests in 1998, down from 46,000 in 1997. Ford's Mercury line sold just 36,500 Villagers last year, down from about 55,000 a year earlier.
Seergy attributed the stirring of Quest sales to the new model's inclusion of a TV and videocassette player. 'We're calling it the minivan that's a babysitter.'
At the same time, Nissan has requested more of the Xterra sport-utility, which will go into production this April.
Although the vehicle's planned price has not been made public yet, it is expected to be one of the least expensive compact sport-utilities on the market.
The production forecast is 60,000 Xterras annually, Seergy said of the plan at Smyrna. 'I already asked the plant to buy the parts to do 70,000,' he said.
The sales requests come rapidly on the heels of a year of inventory trimming and factory production cuts at Nissan. Last year, Nissan's Smyrna plant halted production one day a week for about half the year. Sales dipped for every Nissan model for the year, and the entire division reported a nearly 16 percent decline in sales for the year.
But the company is showing a spurt of confidence now. Seergy said inventories are now in line, dealer profitability is up 42 percent over a year ago and the division is eyeing a sales rebound. He predicted 610,000 to 630,000 car and truck sales for 1999, up from 557,879 last year.
Nissan hopes to give its brand identity a jolt with the Xterra, which is built off the Frontier pickup. The sport-utility already is being positioned in print advertising as an affordable, under-$20,000 off-roader for younger buyers. One ad emphasizes the number of mountain bikes that the vehicle can carry. Nissan believes that demographic has been largely excluded from the expanding sport-utility market because of the high price of most compact and larger models.