YOKOHAMA, Japan -- Nissan Motor Co. CEO Carlos Ghosn says the company will need another assembly plant in North America within five years -- after it reaches his goal of taking 10 percent of the U.S. market.
The additional capacity could be used to build Infiniti nameplates, Ghosn said during an interview at Nissan headquarters here. He also said the luxury brand's top priority is selling more of its existing high-volume models, and he downplayed Infiniti's need for an exotic halo model.
"Whenever we reach 10 percent market share in the United States," Ghosn said, "I think we're going to need more capacity." He said he expects to hit that level before 2017.
As part of Ghosn's current midterm business plan for Nissan, the automaker targets a 10 percent market share in the United States by the end of the fiscal year ending March 31, 2017.
Even with a new plant in Mexico that will open next year, "We don't have too much available capacity in North America," Ghosn said. "There will hopefully be more to come."
So far this year Nissan's U.S. sales trail the industry's as a whole. Nissan blames that, in part, on a lack of local production capacity. Through October, combined Nissan and Infiniti sales rose 11 percent to 946,169 units, compared with an industrywide gain of 14 percent. Nissan North America's combined market share in that period dipped to 7.9 percent, from 8.1 percent in the year-earlier period.
For now, Nissan will work to free existing capacity to supply North American customers, Ghosn said.
The current Mexico factory, for example, supplies the Sentra (known in some markets as the Sunny), Tiida, and March small cars to Brazil and Sentras and Versas to North America.
But when a new Brazilian factory comes online in 2014, Nissan will be able to redirect more of that Mexican capacity to the United States.
An additional North American factory also could build Infinitis. Currently, all Infiniti vehicles but one -- the Infiniti JX crossover, built in Smyrna, Tenn. -- are assembled in Japan.
"You are going to see more and more Infiniti production outside of Japan," Ghosn said. "North America is one potential" site.
"I think one of the main handicaps today of Infiniti is probably the fact that we are too dependent on Japan," Ghosn said.
But the solution doesn't necessarily require an entire factory dedicated to Infiniti. An Infiniti line inside an existing factory would suffice, he said.
Mexico is one contender for Infiniti production, he added.
Ghosn also cautioned against rapidly expanding the Infiniti lineup, say by rushing out a so-called halo car.
Sleek eye-catching concept cars, including the Infiniti Essence and Emerge-E plug-in sports hybrid, have fueled speculation that Infiniti is planning a new flagship model. And new Infiniti chief Johan de Nysschen has called for one.
But the brand needs to be more pragmatic, Ghosn said.
"We cannot make Infiniti out of a bunch of cars, [each] selling a little bit of units," he said. "Every strong brand has to have one or two strong cars selling very well, competing very well in their segment. This is the first and most important thing to do.
"What I would like," he said, is for "our global dealer network of Infiniti to concentrate on selling well the cars that we already produce, before going for enlargement and more halo cars."