DETROIT - Nissan North America Inc. will expand its U.S. lineup next year with a small hatchback and sedan named Versa. The automaker is spending $800 million to upgrade its plant in Aguascalientes, Mexico, to build the cars for North America.
The Versa is a lightly reworked version of the Nissan Tiida sold in Japan. Nissan will use the Tiida name on the cars sold in Mexico.
The Versa, which is smaller than the Nissan Sentra, is expected to have a base price of about $12,000. It will be equipped with a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine rated at about 120 hp. Mated to an optional continuously variable transmission, Nissan says the powertrain should achieve 38 mpg in combined city-highway driving.
The hatchback will go on sale in early summer 2006 as a 2007 model, Nissan said. Sales of the sedan will begin in late 2006.
The addition of the Versa will give Nissan a vehicle to compete in the growing budget-car segment in the United States. The segment includes the Chevrolet Aveo, Scion models from Toyota Motor Corp. and an upcoming small car from Honda Motor Co. based on the Fit and Jazz models sold in Japan and Europe. The Honda is expected to go on sale in the spring.
Nissan said it also will deliver a redesigned Sentra and Altima and restyled Maxima for the 2007 model year. The Sentra also is built in Aguascalientes. The Altima and Maxima are built in Smyrna, Tenn. Some Altimas are built in Nissan's plant in Canton, Miss.
Annual capacity at the Aguascalientes plant will grow from 200,000 units to 350,000 units with the addition of the Versa. Nissan says it will add 2,000 jobs at the plant. It expects suppliers to add another 2,000 jobs.
Changes at the Aguascalientes plant include the addition of a flexible body line that can handle as many as four models and more automation in the paint shop with the addition of 25 robots. Moreover, suppliers will be allocated production space at the plant site to deliver components in sequence.