AGUASCALIENTES, Mexico -Nearly five years after opening its newest auto plant in Mexico, Nissan is about ready to fill it with activity.
Since the opening, Nissan's plant here has been operating at less than half of its capacity. But next year, it will take over almost all Sentra sedan production currently done in the USA.
In two years' time, Nissan expects to build 160,000-170,000 Sentras annually in Aguascalientes, said Masao Horie, the company's president. Employment will jump from 4,200 currently to 6,200.
A decision is pending on whether to also take over production of the two-door version of the car from Nissan's Smyrna, Tennessee plant in the USA.
'With this project we will achieve, for the first time since Aguascalientes started car production, the return on the investment we have put there,' said Horie.
Another plus for the plant is quality. This year, Aguascalientes scored better than Nissan's Smyrna plant in a J.D. Power and Associates ranking of plant quality.
'Our objective is to be the No. 1 Nissan plant outside Japan,' said Enrique de LaTorre, quality manager at the plant.
Horie said that it had 'been hard to survive in the Mexican market.'
But things have improved since Mexico's 1994 peso devaluation and economic collapse. 'Our position now is a very good one,' he said.
Horie considers the recent slide of the peso from 7.8 to almost 8.5 pesos per dollar healthy.
'It allows us to have a much more fair value of the peso, which also helps our exports.'
His objective: maintain a 20 percent share of the local market and increase exports.
He plans to gain in Mexico with a price-driven strategy and a new model line that includes the US-made Altima, the 240SX and the Infiniti 130, the second Infiniti to be sold in Mexico after the Q45.
Early in the decade, Nissan was No. 1 in the Mexican market. Now it is No. 2, behind General Motors.
Horie thinks beating GM will be impossible. And staying No. 2 will be tough because Ford is expected to offer a product in the supermini segment, the Fiesta, next year.