CANTON, Miss. -- When Lextron Corp. CEO Charles Doty discusses his company's "opportunity," he is talking on more than one level.
Walking through his nearly finished factory here, where his joint venture with Visteon Corp. - Lextron/Visteon Automotive Systems LLC - will begin assembling cockpits and front-end modules for Nissan Quest minivans this month, Doty sees opportunity for himself and his new partnership with the world's second-largest parts maker.
Doty also can see opportunity for minority-owned businesses in an industry that wants to direct more purchasing to qualified vendors such as his. Before Nissan, Lextron was a small assembler of electronics and telecommunications products.
But there also is the new opportunity inherent in a changing Japanese auto industry - an industry segment that is increasingly opening itself to unfamiliar, non-Japanese parts makers.
For the past four years, Nissan Motor Co. has been shaking up its traditional supplier base. The automaker had begun to feel hamstrung by some of its longstanding relationships - many of them through financial ties - with Japanese suppliers that had become less than competitive globally. Under the Nissan Revival Plan, Nissan told suppliers in Japan and North America to slash costs and become more efficient or prepare to lose Nissan business.
The influx of new capital that came with Renault's 37 percent acquisition of Nissan in 1999 gave the company both the cash to begin expanding its North American production and the green light to begin sourcing from the world's most competitive suppliers.
Enter Nissan's big new Canton, Miss., truck project, Visteon Corp. and Doty's Jackson, Miss.-based Lextron.
Untested as a Tier 1 supplier, the Lextron joint venture has snatched a plumb of a contract. It will be one of six Tier 1 suppliers that will operate parts factories on the site of Nissan North America's $1.5 billion truck and car plant in Mississippi. The distance from Doty's door to Nissan's door is measured not in miles, or even in minutes, but in footsteps. His building and Nissan's are separate, but only technically.
Nissan owns the land. Lextron and Visteon own the building and the business within.
Their completed minivan cockpits, containing parts and modules from 89 other suppliers, will rise on a mechanical lift from their assembly line and move automatically overhead on a conveyer that rolls through something resembling a large heating duct into the Nissan plant. There, the cockpits will lower into the vehicle assembly area to be installed into the minivans, 90 minutes after Lextron/Visteon receives the order to build.