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Nissan Set to Open Mississippi Auto Plant

The culmination of a $1.43-billion investment will be greeted with an international audience and a well-guarded celebration.

May 26, 2003|Barbara Powell | Associated Press

CANTON, Miss. — Don't bother asking the color of the 2004 Quest minivan that will be the first vehicle rolling off the assembly line when Nissan opens its massive auto plant here Tuesday.

That's a well-guarded secret.

So is the entertainment that will be provided for the 300 Nissan Motor Co. executives, elected officials, auto analysts, investment bankers and a small army of international journalists invited to watch the culmination of 29 months of planning and a $1.43-billion investment.

And don't ask which Canton plant employee was selected out of 1,950 workers to give a speech, alongside the likes of Nissan Chief Executive and President Carlos Ghosn, Gov. Ronnie Musgrove and U.S. Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.). Not even the other employees at the 3.5-million-square-foot plant know who among them was chosen.

Here's what is known about Tuesday:

* That's the day for which Mississippi spent $363 million in incentives, in exchange for a promise of 5,300 well-paying and much-needed manufacturing jobs when the plant hits peak production next year. Add an additional couple thousand jobs from the 24 Nissan suppliers serving the plant, plus bragging rights to having one of the nation's biggest auto assembly facilities.

* Musgrove will be saying a few words to the crowd during the 45-minute ceremony -- but probably not in Japanese.

"He's traveled to Japan on more than one occasion in pursuit of jobs for the state," spokesman John Sewell said. "He can speak a few words in Japanese. And he's made a strong effort to familiarize himself with the Japanese customs."

* The color of the first Quest minivan rolling off the line is likely to be black or silver or whatever shade of red the Quest will come in because red, black and silver are Nissan's company colors.

"We had a lot of discussion on the color," said Nissan spokesman Tom Groom. "We have to coordinate with the actual presentation area. And we looked at which vehicle would show best under the lights."

* The visitors from Japan and journalists flying in from across the United States, Japan, Mexico and Europe will know they've landed in the right place the minute they step off the plane. The state has provided 100 banners heralding both Mississippi and Nissan that will be displayed at Jackson International Airport and roads leading to the assembly plant.

Although Tuesday might have a party feel, it's also showdown time for Nissan.

The Canton plant, Nissan's first new U.S. plant since 1983, will launch the company's assault on Detroit's dominance of the light-truck market. By next May, the plant will be turning out 400,000 vehicles: Quest minivans; Nissan's first full-size truck, the Titan; its first full-size SUVs, the Nissan Pathfinder Armada and an Infinity version; and the Altima sedan.

"The plant is ready and the people there are very excited," said Groom, who works out of Nissan's Smyrna, Tenn., plant.

"It reminds me of a football team that's been going through the practice sessions, and they're ready for the game to start."

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