Nissan Motor Co., despite objections from the Michigan-based Big Three automakers, won a federal waiver Tuesday that allows the company to meet U.S. fuel economy requirements.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration accepted Nissan's argument that the company might have to cut U.S. jobs to comply with the so-called dual fleet rule.
Nissan had said that without an exemption to the rule -- which imposes separate fuel economy standards on vehicles imported into the U.S. and those produced here -- it might have to shift production of Altima and Maxima sedans from Tennessee to overseas to meet the fuel economy standards.
Nissan, whose North American operations are based in Gardena, has about 12,000 manufacturing employees in the U.S.
General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and DaimlerChrysler opposed the waiver, saying Japan's third-biggest automaker would have an unfair advantage.
But NHTSA disagreed.
"Granting the petition would likely help retain American jobs that might otherwise be sent overseas," Administrator Jeffrey Runge said in the decision posted on the agency's website.
The rule forces automakers to measure the fuel economy of U.S.- and Canada-built cars separately from imports to discourage automakers from using autos made overseas to meet the standard and cut U.S. jobs.
Starting next year, the North American Free Trade Agreement will force automakers to count Mexico-produced vehicles as U.S.-made, forcing Nissan to treat the Sentra, now built in Mexico, as part of its U.S.-made fleet and putting its foreign fleet out of compliance.
The Sentra averages 33 miles per gallon in highway driving, according to federal mileage ratings. Once the Sentra is removed from the mix, Nissan's import fleet would fail to meet the minimum requirement of a 27.5-mpg average.
To bring the fuel economy of its import fleet back into compliance, Nissan said, it might be forced to shift production of the Mexico-built Sentra and relatively fuel-efficient Altimas and Maximas now made in Tennessee out of North America.
The exemption lets Nissan combine two fleets for calculating fuel economy in the 2006 through 2010 model years.
Nissan's U.S.-listed shares rose 26 cents to $22.16 on Nasdaq.
Bloomberg News was used in compiling this report.