DETROIT — Nissan Motor Corp. is expanding its U.S. operations so that by 1992 it will be able to design, engineer and produce in the United States vehicles aimed at this market, company officials said Tuesday.
"It is definitely necessary for us to live in this country and work with U.S. engineers to understand the taste of the U.S. customer. We should be here and work in this market," said Takeshi Tanuma, president of the reorganized and expanded Nissan Research & Development Inc.
During 1987, Nissan's imported car sales fell 17.2% and sales of its U.S.-built Sentra compact cars were so slow that Nissan's assembly plant in Smyrna, Tenn., was temporarily scheduled to build more trucks than cars.
NRD will take control of Nissan Design International in San Diego from the parent corporation in Japan and will develop products that will be built at Smyrna, starting in late 1991 with a 1992 model car.
"The expansion of NRD now provides Nissan with almost total U.S. development and production capability from styling concept to manufacturing," Tanuma said. "Not bad for a so-called Japanese car company."
The Smyrna plant will be expanded "maybe within a few years" to build the new products, which eventually could also be exported to Japan and Europe, Tanuma said.
Nissan soon will decide how it will expand Smyrna and whether it will add engine and transmission production there or elsewhere in the United States or Canada, he said.
"Our responsibility is total product planning, long and mid-range, in this market," Tanuma said, adding that a similar localization will follow in Europe in six to 10 months.
NRD, based in Ann Arbor, Mich., had been a company that tested Nissan products, conducted automotive emissions research and collected technical information.
The company will be reorganized and expanded Feb. 1 and will add corporate offices and engineering design facilities in Detroit, Tanuma said. About 150 new workers, including about 100 engineers, will be hired, bringing NRD's total payroll to about 250 employees, he said.
A prime goal of the new NRD organization is increasing the U.S. content of vehicles built at Smyrna to 75% from 50% by 1990, Tanuma said.
NRD also will be responsible for Nissan's new test track in Stanfield, Ariz., the first built by a Japanese auto maker. Honda Motor Co. has purchased a test track in Ohio.
Under NRD, the San Diego design center will work on interiors as well as vehicle bodies. The center designed the current versions of the Nissan pickup, the sporty Pulsar NX and the Pathfinder sport utility vehicle.