SMYRNA, Tenn. - Between new products and factory expansions, the plate at Nissan North America Inc. is overloaded.
Nonetheless, Dan Gaudette has not become a stranger to his family, in defiance of conventional auto industry expectations.
Gaudette, Nissan's 49-year-old senior vice president of U.S. manufacturing, is part of a lean staff of American managers that is in the throes of a dramatic expansion of Nissan production capacity. The small Smyrna team is typical of the way Japanese automakers have grown in North America, entrusting big projects to small squads of mid-level personnel, young managers and a sprinkling of seasoned U.S. executives and visiting Japanese advisers.
But Nissan is pushing the envelope on that model.
Led by Gaudette's boss, Emil Hassan, the Smyrna group is waging a multifront campaign. It is handling:
1. Construction of a $930 million truck plant in Canton, Miss., 450 miles away.
2. A $500 million expansion of engine production in Decherd, Tenn., 60 miles away, which will put Nissan into the engine-machining business here for the first time.
3. A $500 million expansion of the Smyrna plant to add that factory's fourth vehicle line.
4. An expansion of manufacturing activities at Nissan's Mexican automaking facilities to support Renault's Latin American growth plans.
The same management team also is handling the expansion of Nissan's North American supply base, in flux as Nissan qualifies new parts makers for the Canton and Decherd projects.
It is executing year three of Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn's global multiyear program to cut costs and restore profitability. It is overseeing daily operations at Smyrna, which turns out about 36,000 vehicles a month, and at plants in Decherd and Mexico.
And it is gearing up for a different approach to manufacturing in North America. Under that new operating system, Nissan will attempt to custom-build cars and trucks to customer orders using major components that are delivered to Nissan's factories on a carefully timed schedule. Outsiders have noticed the juggling act.
"I'm concerned about them being able to meet their timing," says Michael Robinet, director of forecasting services for CSM Forecasting Inc. in Northville, Mich. "They've got a lot to pull off in the next two years, not just here but also in Mexico."