Dan Gaudette was named senior vice president for North American manufacturing and quality assurance at Nissan North America Inc. when his boss, Emil Hassan, retired in April. Gaudette, a former Ford Motor Co. accountant, joined Nissan when it started in Smyrna, Tenn., in 1980. He was senior vice president for U.S. manufacturing, overseeing the automaker's rapid factory expansion in North America.
Nissan has spent $2.4 billion in the past four years, building a Canton, Miss., car and truck plant that will produce five nameplates; a new multiproduct engine plant in Decherd, Tenn.; and an expanded operation at Smyrna, with the addition of two new models to its previous three.
Gaudette recently spoke with Staff Reporter Lindsay Chappell about some of Nissan's changes and challenges.
Your responsibilities are different from those of your predecessor's, aren't they? Emil Hassan had the additional responsibility of North American purchasing.
I have responsibility for North American manufacturing, quality and logistics. The purchasing organization under (Vice President Toshiaki) Otani, which had reported directly to Emil, now reports directly to Mr. Ghosn.
Why is that?
Purchasing is becoming much more global. As it continues to grow and evolve in all parts of the world, as it is, we're trying to look at how best to manage that part of our business. It's changing, but it's also growing.
Nissan's California sales organization has said that sales of new models from Canton are beginning slower than it wanted. How does that affect the schedule you've envisioned for ramping up the new factory?
We launched all of our products, and they all launched on time. Although the sales of the individual products haven't met the expectations yet, they continue to improve. We're hoping they would launch and get into the customers' hands much quicker.
But we've made adjustments in overtime schedules to support it. That's predominately the change we've had to make - reduction of overtime schedules and a little bit of reduction in Quest production volumes.
Is this an opportunity to use the flexible manufacturing system you put in place in Canton?
Exactly. Even though the Pathfinder Armada did not accelerate out of the gate as fast as we wanted, the Infiniti QX56 has come on tremendously. So we've made some adjustment between the models to allow us to take advantage of what the QX56 is doing.
According to the recent J.D. Power Initial Quality Study numbers, the Canton vehicles have scored poorly in their respective segments. Nissan took on a new plant, new work force, new products and suppliers, all at the same time in Canton. Will industry experts point to one of those as the culprit?
No. I don't think they're going to pinpoint any one of those things. I think everyone recognizes that all of them are very important for the product.
But again, IQS is only one indication for us. You've seen other indications recently. For example, AutoPacific just said that the Titan ranked above every other vehicle on the market. So keep in mind that even though the J.D. Power scores weren't good, the customers still love the vehicles. There are also reliability and durability surveys out there, and we expect our vehicles to be leaders in those segments.
Carlos Ghosn has indicated a couple of times recently that Nissan will soon have to think about building additional North American production capacity. How imminent is that?
What will dictate it is the continual increase of sales. If sales continue to grow, then you'll start seeing whether there's a need for additional capacity.
Will Nissan in Mexico occupy much of your time?
My plan is to be in Mexico at least once a quarter. Mexico is already a very good operation. But even at Canton - I was previously going there once a week. I'm now going once every three weeks or so.