TOKYO -- Nissan Motor Co. says it has redesigned hundreds of parts in vehicles built at its new Canton, Miss., plant in an effort to fix quality problems.
About 200 Japanese engineers descended on the plant in May after three models built there fared poorly in the latest J.D. Power and Associates Initial Quality Study.
About half of the engineers are still operating in the United States.
"We redesigned every possible component," says Eiji Imai, Nissan's senior vice president in charge of quality assurance.
Nissan vehicles built at the year-old plant performed dismally in the survey of consumer quality perceptions for the 2004 model year. The first three nameplates launched at the plant - the redesigned Quest minivan, Titan full-sized pickup and Pathfinder Armada SUV - scored last in their segments.
"Improving the IQS is my commitment," Imai says. "We've got to reach a numerical target (for the 2005 IQS survey) that would surprise you."
He won't specify the target but says: "We have to do such a great job that it makes you say, 'Well done.' "
Imai says he will test drive the 2005 Altima and Maxima - both built at Nissan's Smyrna, Tenn., plant - by the end of July. He will drive the Canton-produced 2005 Quest, Armada and Titan models in late August.
By the end of June, Nissan engineers filled in more than 200 "design notes." The notes inform Nissan or a supplier that a specific component will be redesigned. Each note accounts for one or more components.
The engineers tackled such items as an air conditioner that performed poorly, a radio tuner that was not calibrated precisely, steering components that caused the vehicle to pull or drift to one side and window seals that allowed excessive noise into the cabin.
Imai won't elaborate on which problem affected which vehicle.
|Bringing up the rear|
|Nissan's Titan, Armada and Quest, which are built in Canton, Miss., fared poorly in the J.D. Power Initial Quality Study released in April.|
|PROBLEMS PER 100||SEGMENT||RANK|
|Titan||166||Light-duty full-sized pickup||Last (9 in segment)|
|Armada||209||Full-sized SUV||Last (7 in segment)|
|Quest||243||Compact van||Last (13 in segment)|
|Source: J.D. Power and Associates|
The noise problem was particularly difficult, he says, because the cause of the problem may be noise from the road, from a nearby truck, from some other source or from some combination of those sources. Nissan engineers adjusted the rubber seal on the side windows in some cases and the windshield seal in other cases.
Some American drivers complained about cupholders. They said the former Altima's cupholder was too large, allowing cups to spill. For the 2004 Altima, Nissan placed a felt cloth inside the cupholder to hold smaller cups more tightly. But then customers complained that with the felt cloth, the holder was too small. So Nissan took out the cloth and made the holder itself smaller.
Nissan also dispatched 10 engineers from its Supplier Quality Assurance team in Japan to some of its suppliers in the United States.
"Even traditional American suppliers may not be as good at the new place as they are at their base operations," Imai says.
He won't say which suppliers his team visited.
Imai says the efforts are working. For example, he says, Nissan quickly reduced the number of vehicles with torn seams in the seat to 0.3 out of 100 from seven per 100.
But results-oriented Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn won't be happy until he sees Nissan ranked much higher in the next J.D. Power survey.
When Imai reported to Ghosn recently that the engineers had redesigned components and examined suppliers, Imai says, Ghosn didn't give him a pat on the back.
"He wouldn't say, 'You did a good job,'" Imai says. "All we have to do is to give better results."