NASHVILLE -- Nissan will cut weeks out of the amount of time it takes to bring the redesigned 2016 Maxima to full output on three factory work shifts.
That will help Nissan cope with a pleasant problem on the car: Dealers attended a Maxima test-drive event in Arizona last month and immediately upped their pre-orders of the car.
John Martin, Nissan's North American manufacturing, purchasing and supply chain senior vice president, says he has responded by increasing Maxima's production schedule by 8 percent for this year.
That early volume adjustment will be easier to execute than in the past because of a new approach to model launches at Nissan. The company will take only four weeks to ramp up to full three-shift output at its Smyrna, Tenn., assembly plant, which will help it fill the distribution pipeline for the Maxima's early-June sales start.
The new approach relies on tougher internal deadlines to make sure problems are resolved long before the official start of production. For the Maxima, that meant there were no last-minute part design changes, a practice that slows down factory launches across the industry.
"In previous launches, there were always design changes that weren't resolved before production start," Martin says.
"Design changes distract suppliers from building their parts at full speed because they're still doing fundamental engineering work on them. And manufacturing people are distracted by having to keep the changes straight -- is this 'Version A' of the part, or the changed 'Version B'?"
Martin also implemented a new launch practice he calls "T-2000." Well before Nissan threw the switch to start vehicle production, every Nissan supplier had to demonstrate that it could produce 2,000 of its assigned parts at full-line speed, using its actual factory tooling and only its regular assembly-line employees -- without engineering help.
Maxima commercial production started on April 21 with just one supplier out of hundreds operating at less than 100 percent readiness, Martin reports.
Nissan now has a team of support engineers working with the supplier to hit full-speed readiness.
"That's one supplier I need to manage," Martin says, "whereas in the past, a typical model launch in the U.S. would have had 30 suppliers who were not ready. And that would have still been acceptable for any automaker."
Martin says the 2016 Maxima will be easier to build. It has only one engine option -- a 300-hp V-6 engine. And Nissan intends to market the car in five trim packages "with zero options," according to the company. By comparison, Nissan's humble, midsize Frontier pickup comes in two- and four-wheel configurations, with a four-cylinder or V-6 engine.
Less variation will mean easier manufacturing, the factory boss says. "And when you talk about easier manufacturing, you're talking about better quality."