The Nissan Quest minivan is designed, engineered and built in America for U.S. consumers. It is the sort of product that Japanese automakers want to make locally - or maybe not.
Nissan North America Inc. will decide soon whether to yank the Quest out of U.S. production and build it in Japan. The problem: Low sales have turned the Quest into a niche vehicle.
First expected to sell 80,000 to 90,000 units a year in the United States, the Quest now is forecast to sell about 40,000. In 2005, 40,357 Quests were sold.
Niche vehicles are becoming common in North American auto plants. But the Quest's setback creates a hole in Nissan's production plans. Nissan's big plant in Canton, Miss., builds the Quest and four other nameplates, with total production plans for 400,000 vehicles a year. With lower Quest sales, Canton would have 50,000 units of excess capacity.
One solution under study: Move the Quest and build a higher-volume vehicle in Canton.
One Japanese chassis component supplier that planned to supply the next-generation Quest in a U.S. plant said the decision to build the minivan in Japan is a "done deal."
Nissan spokeswoman Vicki Smith confirmed that a change in sourcing is being considered. "Canton was designed to build five models, and we are committed to the full utilization of its capacity," she said.
Nissan Motor Co. already has moved most of its high-volume vehicles to North America. The Murano SUV, with sales of 74,454 in 2005, is imported. The Infiniti G35 car, which sold 68,728 units last year, also is imported.
Moving a high-volume car out of Japan is a touchy issue because Nissan has struggled to keep plants there at full capacity.
The Canton plant was critical to helping Nissan reach its three-year goal of selling 1 million additional units worldwide and "will continue to support Nissan's global growth plans in the future," Smith said.
One of those plans is to boost Nissan's sales of commercial trucks. Canton already builds the full-sized Nissan Titan pickup, which competes with the Ford F-150. But neither Nissan nor any other Japanese company has tried to compete against larger trucks, such as the Ford F-250 and F-350.
Smith declined to talk about a replacement vehicle at Canton.
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