Nissan To Expand Mississippi Plant

Automaker has formally announced an $118 million expansion and retooling of its plant in Canton to prepare for the manufacture of a commercial vehicle.

CANTON, Miss. (AP) -- Nissan Motor Co. will invest $118 million to retool its Mississippi auto plant to produce its first commercial vehicle made in the United States.

Dan Bednarzyk, vice president of manufacturing at Nissan in Canton, said Wednesday that modifications at the plant have begun and production will start in 2010.

Bednarzyk said Japan's third-largest automaker, which last month announced 20,000 job cuts globally amid an industrywide downturn, reached the decision after seeing commercial vehicle sales grow by 8 percent in overseas markets.

Nissan's concept commercial vehicle was unveiled Wednesday at a national truck show in Chicago. The Nissan NV2500 Concept looks like a cargo van with a computer workstation, fold-down conference table, storage compartments and V-8 engine.

Nissan has formed a partnership with Indiana-based Cummins Inc. for diesel engines and German-based ZF Friedrichshafen AG for transmissions in the new commercial vehicle.

"In light of the current (economic) condition globally we are really excited about what is going on here today," Bednarzyk said during a tour with reporters.

Nissan, with North American headquarters is in Franklin, Tenn., is discontinuing production of the Titan pickup, the Quest minivan and a sports utility vehicle in Canton to make way for the commercial vehicle.

Bednarzyk said the Altima and other cars will continue to be built there.

Like other automakers, Nissan has been hurt by declining sales, especially in the important U.S. market, where a financial crisis and credit crunch have sent auto sales tumbling.

Construction has already begun on the 49,000 square-foot paint plant expansion, which will be outfitted to perform a new painting method for the commercial vehicle.

Major construction in the trim and chassis shop, where a new assembly line will be added, will be performed during the company's summer shutdown.

Nissan's commercial vehicles are already sold in 75 percent of the world's auto markets, including Japan, and Bednarzyk said "we have been an established leader in the commercial vehicle business for more than 70 years."

"We were in every market in the world except for the United States and we should be in that market," Bednarzyk said. "We have a strong base within the United States for passenger vehicles ... so it just made sense."

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