YOKOHAMA, Japan -- After several years of opening factories, Nissan Motor Corp. now will channel investment into new products and technologies, said CEO Carlos Ghosn. Top priorities will be electrified drivetrains, fuel cell technologies, autonomous drive systems and connected-car products, Ghosn told a small group of reporters last week.
"Most of our investments are in products and technologies, now that most of the expansion of the company has been done," Ghosn said. The shift caps a period during which Nissan plowed much of its profits into a flurry of factory building, especially in emerging markets.
"We were building a new plant in China. We were building a new plant in Brazil. We were building a new plant in Mexico. We were expanding the plant in Thailand. We were expanding the plant in Indonesia," Ghosn said. "Now, all those plants are finished."
Nissan's global production footprint is set for the moment, and it's time to focus on developing top-notch vehicles to be built at the plants just coming online, Ghosn said.
Capital investment will continue at the joint plant Nissan is building with Daimler AG to produce Infiniti vehicles in Mexico. But Ghosn said that investment is "really small compared to the amount of capacity increase we had for the last three to four years."
Nissan does not disclose global capacity figures. But with its new factories, it lifted global output to 5.1 million vehicles in the fiscal year ended March 31 from 4.2 million four years earlier.
The timing contrasts with that of rival Toyota Motor Corp., which is ending a three-year moratorium on new factories that had been ordered by President Akio Toyoda. During that time, Toyota invested in a new modularized platform that will underpin a new generation of vehicles starting this year.
Nissan's capital spending dropped 16 percent to ¥463.1 billion ($3.87 billion) in the fiscal year ended March 31 from the year before. Spending on r&d edged up 1 percent to $4.23 billion in that same period.
Ghosn pointed to a redesigned Titan pickup due in the U.S. this year and a new line of crossovers, including a redesigned Murano, as the kind of products Nissan aims to ramp up.
Nissan is enjoying greater production flexibility these days thanks to the Japanese yen's declining value against other currencies, including the dollar. That allows Nissan to tap its existing capacity in Japan, even if temporarily, rather than invest in additional capacity overseas.
Indeed, Nissan plans to boost Japan production to 1 million vehicles in 2016 from 871,000 in the fiscal year just ended, Ghosn said. U.S. demand for the Rogue crossover will help drive the Japan ramp-up because there is no room to build more of the hot-selling Rogue in North America, he said.
Ghosn said absorbing the U.S. overflow was an "opportunistic" move to spare investment. The weaker yen makes it more competitive to ship Japan-made vehicles overseas.
In earlier remarks, Ghosn praised superloose monetary policies in Japan that have the side effect of undermining the yen's value against other currencies. "The policy of bringing back the yen to a more normal and competitive level is paying off," he said. "Without any doubt, you're going to see the production of Nissan in Japan going up."