SMYRNA, Tenn. - Renault SA's partnership with Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. will take years to fully take shape. But just one month into the marriage, Renault is casting a fond eye upon the Nis-san Xterra.
Renault has expressed interest in obtaining a version of the American-made sport-utility, said U.S. officials at Nissan.
Such a proposal would require substantial product planning for Renault, cautioned the Xterra's chief designer, Jerry Hirshberg, president of Nissan Design International Inc.
But he added: 'They seem to be particularly interested in SUV design.'
Renault's lead design team visited Nissan's California design studios this month to look at Nissan's advance plans.
Patrick LeQuement, corporate director of design and quality for Renault, made the visit.
'It felt rather strange for me,' Hirshberg said of opening the vaults to another company.
Renault bought a 36.8 percent controlling interest in the No. 2 Japanese automaker in March. Renault officials have made it clear that they want to move quickly to unite the companies wherever possible.
What common pursuits the two companies will have in the United States - where Renault does not do business - is still sketchy. Renault has said it will build a vehicle in one of Nissan's two Mexican assembly plants for the Mexican market. And it may give Nissan a French-made vehicle to sell here.
But the two companies say it is still too early to know where else to join forces.
Last week here in Smyrna, Minoru Nakamura, CEO of Nissan North America, said the two new partners soon will create an executive committee to look at common interests.
The five-member committee will direct 11 cross-company teams. Those teams will be organized by such areas as engine platforms, cars, light trucks and components and will study common interests on a region-by-region basis.
Nakamura said Renault wants to learn more about Nissan's manufacturing practices. Nissan's Tennessee plant has been ranked as the North American industry's most efficient auto plant for five years in a row by Harbour & Associates Inc., a consulting firm in Troy, Mich.
Nakamura predicted that Renault will adopt some Nissan production practices in the coming years.
'They're very eager to change themselves,' Nakamura said.
Nissan's greatest needs are cutting costs worldwide and boosting sales in the United States.
The Xterra, which went into production here last week, should provide a sales boost.
Jerry Benefield, CEO of Nissan Motor Manufacturing Corp. U.S.A., said Smyrna could build up to 75,000 Xterras a year - 15,000 more than its initial sales goal. Those sales would be additional business for the U.S. company, since the Xterra represents a new market segment for Nissan.