NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Even though Nissan's U.S. manufacturing subsidiary will be spared most of the automaker's job cuts, it will see fundamental changes by April 1.
The Smyrna, Tenn., subsidiary will cease to be a separate corporation and instead become a unit of Nissan North America Inc., based in Gardena, Calif. Some executive functions will be eliminated because they will be redundant with the California company. And the title of CEO of Nissan Motor Manufacturing Corp. U.S.A. - a job held since 1988 by Jerry Benefield - probably will be eliminated.
Gail Neuman, general counsel and vice president of human resources for the Smyrna company, said the title change would take effect for Benefield's successor after Benefield retires. Benefield, 59, has not made his retirement plans public, but he has been working on management succession plans.
Nissan has differed from the other Japanese automakers in North America by having a U.S. chief of its factory operations. The job was first filled in 1980 by former Ford Motor Co. executive Marvin Runyon.
The changes revealed last week are intended to cut costs and improve efficiencies among Nissan's North American operations. Neuman noted that because the Smyrna company is a separate legal entity, it has its own accounting department and its own accounts payable management, and even its own chief counsel.
Neuman, 52, announced that she will retire April 1 as chief counsel, and she expects the position to be eliminated.
She said it was not clear how many white-collar positions in Smyrna will be eliminated. But she said most cuts will be done through attrition.
Nissan's Renault-appointed COO, Carlos Ghosn, has made it clear that he wants Nissan's U.S. operations to grow. And that will mean more activity in Tennessee.
Neuman emphasized last week that no factory personnel are being laid off. The company employs about 4,800 factory workers in Tennessee and about 1,200 white-collar workers.
She characterized turning Smyrna into a unit of Nissan North America as 'primarily a legal change' and predicted it will make decision-making and communications easier in North America.
For example, Nissan North America now must negotiate with the Smyrna company over the price of vehicles. Smyrna produces the Altima, Frontier pickup, Crew Cab and Xterra sport-utility. As a separate company, Smyrna's incentive is to be as profitable as possible.
At the moment, the change in reporting lines is almost academic. The CEO of Nissan Motor Manufacturing Corp. U.S.A. reports to the chairman of Nissan Motor Manufacturing Corp. U.S.A., Nobuo Araki . In the future, the senior executive at Smyrna will report to the CEO of Nissan North America, a position also filled by Araki.