CANTON, Miss. (AP) -- Nissan Motor Co. will assemble its Murano crossover vehicle in its Mississippi plant beginning in late 2014.
Canton plant manager Dan Bednarzyk said Thursday that Nissan will add 400 jobs to its current total of about 5,200. Nissan wouldn't say how much it will spend to start making Muranos there. It has invested more than $2 billion since it announced plans to build the plant in 2000.
"Bringing the Murano to Canton is another sign of Nissan's commitment to our employees, our community and our state," Bednarzyk said. "Creating jobs in the U.S. is a great thing but creating them right here in Canton, Mississippi is a great thing."
Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant said the state isn't offering additional incentives above the $378 million it has given to Nissan.
"All we can do at every opportunity, we will continue to support this plant," Bryant said.
It would be the eighth model for the plant north of Jackson. Nissan already assembles the Altima and Sentra sedans, Armada and Xterra SUVs, Titan and Frontier pickup trucks and NV vans in Canton.
"One of the beauties of our plant here is its flexibility," Bednarzyk said. He said the ability to make so many different models allows the plant to adjust to shifts in demand. The Murano is built on the same underpinnings as the Altima sedan, but Bednarzyk said it would be assembled in Canton on the line that now builds pickup trucks.
Bednarzyk said Nissan will display a Resonance concept vehicle at the Detroit auto show next week that will provide styling clues for the Murano model that will be built in Canton. The vehicle was last redesigned in 2009.
Sentra production was announced last year. Bill Krueger, vice chairman of Nissan Americas, said the Canton plant is in trials for building the Sentra and will begin commercial production "in the very near future." Nissan officials said the plant has a capacity to make 450,000 vehicles a year, but only made 233,000 in 2012. Nissan is trying to capture 10 percent of the U.S. auto market by 2014, having reached about 8 percent in 2012.
Nissan now makes the Murano in Kyushu, Japan. Canton will be the only worldwide assembly location. Nissan has been shifting production out of Japan to reduce the risks of exchange rate losses, especially as the yen has strengthened against the dollar, and wants to make 85 percent of vehicles it sells in the United States in North American locations. Kreuger said making vehicles closer to their markets also allows Nissan to respond to customers more quickly.
"As we look back on ten years of manufacturing in Canton, it's become clear throughout the Nissan network that 'Made in Mississippi' is a stamp of quality and great people," Kreuger said. "With the addition of this new model in Canton, Nissan is well on its way to ensuring 85 percent of our vehicles sold in the United States are built in North America."
Nissan officials say they will also create a route for lower-paid contract workers at U.S. plants to become full-time Nissan employees. Kreuger said more details of the program will be announced in March or April. Though Nissan didn't lay off any of its full-time employees during the deep dip in auto production in 2009, suppliers and contractors laid off many workers or cut their hours. Nissan calls its in-house contractors associates and typically includes them in the total number of people it employs.
"They're all vital for us in our production endeavors," Kreuger said. "This pathway plan is something we've intended all along."
The United Auto Workers has targeted Nissan's Canton plant for unionization, launching an effort to appeal to workers in the summer. Thus far, that effort has not led to a vote on union representation for the workers. Mississippi political leaders are traditionally hostile to unions and Bryant and others have said they oppose UAW representation of Canton's workers.