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Auto blogFri, 11 Jan 2013 18:31:00 EST
Celebrating 10 years of operation at its Canton, Mississippi assembly plant, Nissan has announced that it will be adding a seventh vehicle to the plant's portfolio. Starting in 2014, production of the next-generation Murano will move from Japan to Mississippi alongside its platform mate, the Altima, which is a part of Nissan's plan to build 85 percent of its US products domestically.
In addition to the Altima, the Canton facility also produces the Armada, Xterra, Titan, Frontier and NV vans, and back in June, production of the Nissan Sentra production was moved to Canton creating an extra 1,000 jobs. At this point, there is no indication about how many jobs the Murano line will add, if any.
This is the second announcement this week of production being added in the US as Honda said that the Accord Hybrid production would move to Marysville, Ohio where the standard Accord sedan is currently built.
After watching the Tata Nano post sales numbers smaller than its engine displacement, Renault gave up on its much publicized intention to build a truly inexpensive car to rival it. Then, a month ago, reports emerged that Renault was resuming work on a couple of low-priced cars for emerging markets, but this time it would work with its in-house partner, Nissan. That plan envisions an offering for €3,000 ($3,888 US) and another for €5,000 ($6,400 US), both of which would be more spendy than the Nano but might avoid the charge of being cheap - and nasty - and instead be considered affordable.
A report in Reuters talks to the man in charge, Gerard Detourbet, who has been in Chennai, India since at least August working on the program. Detourbet led the Dacia Logan project and is considered "Renault's low-cost car specialist" and "the father of entry-car programs." This one is reportedly codenamed A-Entry and will create a "'sub-entry' architecture" that will provide roominess beyond the vehicle's price and class, and use an engine with a displacement of 800 cubic centimeters.
It isn't aimed at the Nano, though - it means to take on the products that make up 45-50 percent of India's car market, like the Maruti Suzuki Alto and Hyundai Eon. According to Reuters, out of the 2.6-million-strong Indian car market the Maruti Suzuki line-up alone nabs one million registrations annually. The Alto 800 begins at 244,000 rupees ($4,440 US), the Eon at 300,000 rupees ($5,559 US), the Chevrolet Spark at about 316,000 ($5,750 US); if Renault can nail its price targets it will just about bracket those three and be right in the game.
Aside from certain naming-related news, Infiniti has actually had some decent product news to announce this week. The company's president, Johan de Nysschen, alluded to a new 550-horsepower performance sedan, and now the automaker has confirmed that a new "premium compact" will go into production in 2015. Based on the fact that this new model will be built alongside the Nissan Leaf at the automaker's Sunderland, UK assembly plant, we could only hope that it's a production version of the LE Concept (shown above).
Sunderland already produces Nissan products like the Qashqai, Juke and Note, and as a part of an investment of 250 million British pounds (around $406 million USD) for the new model, the plant would add an extra 280 jobs with the capacity to build 60,000 of the new Infinitis annually. Adding the premium compact at Sunderland means that Infiniti will have to change its plans for another new model, a bigger "C-segment hatchback," which could very well be a production version of the Etherea Concept.
At the 2012 LA Auto Show, Fiat brand chief and recently crowned marketing genius, Olivier François, attempted to distance the Fiat 500e from other electric vehicles, asking rhetorically, "Isn't ugliness the worst kind of pollution?" Nissan has apparently taken issue with these comments, feeling slighted for what it considers digs at the Leaf's styling. In a recent interview with Automotive News, Nissan's marketing chief Simon Sproule shot back, "Let's face it, Fiat has not shied away from controversial styling themselves," he continued, "many would describe many of their products as visual pollution." Ouch.
Sproule says that while the 500e is a "me-too" product, made only to appease US emissions regulations, the Leaf is a serious effort at producing an EV. The Nissan marketing boss points out that the Japanese automaker has invested billions in EV development and production facilities, while Fiat will lose $10,000 on every 500e sold.
However sales of the Leaf in the US are down five percent. Nissan sold just 8,330 Leaf's so far this year, but Sproule contends that it has less to do with styling, and more with the charging infrastructure. Sproule also thinks that Nissan hit a balance between styling and practicality with the Leaf: "It's still very recognizable as a five-seat hatchback, fully functioning, absolutely competitive with the packaging of the Golf of any other mainstream vehicle." For a segment where efficiency is king, isn't that what matters most?
Four years ago, Renault confirmed that it would partner with India's Bajaj Auto to develop a rival to the Tata Nano. At the time, as everyone waited for the Tata Nano to arrive, you could have used a Richter scale to measure the tremors the executive suites of any automaker with an interest in the low end of emerging markets. Then the Nano, still the cheapest car in the world, didn't sell so well - at the end of last year its sales were just six percent of its most conservative projections - and everyone seemed content to let Tata spend the money to figure out if there really was a market for the cheapest car in the world.
Renault believes there is, kind of. Automotive News Europe reports that it will partner with Nissan to build two low-priced cars for emerging markets, one for €3,000 ($3,888 U.S.) and another for €5,000 ($6,400 U.S.). The price of the least expensive offering is nearly $1,400 more than a Nano, which costs $2,500, and that can't be considered a small sum in comparison. But one of the hindsight knocks on the Nano has been that even in emerging markets buyers don't want a car whose biggest lure is that it is cheap; they'd rather give their aspirations a bit more of a workout.
Renault's offerings are scheduled to hit the non-Western market in late 2014, which is coincidentally the same year that will see the return of the budget-minded and emerging-market-specific Datsun nameplate. They'll be built in Renault facilities in Chennai, India, with no mention made of Bajaj this time around.
The 2011 earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan took quite the toll on the automotive industry in that nation. Not content to lean on that tragedy as excuse for slagging sales, the Japanese automakers are planning on a major production expansion in North America. The aim is to reclaim the market share lost from the Tsunami-based dip, and overcome a dollar/yen exchange rate that makes exporting to America unprofitable.
Following the Tsunami, Japanese automakers ramped up production in their North American facilities to compensate, but according to Automotive News, Nissan, Honda and others have all reported plans for still-further increased production in the year ahead. As part of this ramp-up, Mazda will open a facility in Salamnca, Mexico before March of 2014. Part of that increase in output is 50,000 units of a Toyota-badged compact car, which Mazda will produce.
Other Mexican production facilities opening include a Honda plant, which will open in Spring 2014 in Celaya, and a Nissan plant, set to open later this year in Aguascalientes. Nissan also said that it will need another plant in North America within the next five years. According to Nissan Boss Carlos Ghosn, the company aims to raise its stake in the US market from 8 percent to 10, and adding production will help achieve that goal. Even Mitsubishi is aiming to boost production at its Normal, Illinois plant. Production of the Outlander Sport is currently at 50,000, which Mitsubishi wants to raise to 70,000.
Nearly every automaker doing business in the SUV or pickup truck segments offers a package designed to improve the off-road capabilities of its wares. But, of course, not all such factory kits are created equal. How, then, to separate the wheat from the chaff? Gather each of them up and put them through their paces, naturally.
The folks from Four Wheeler and PickupTrucks.com joined forces to run just such a comparison test, with the winner named the Ultimate Factory 4x4. A total of seven vehicles showed up to the fight: the 2012 Ford F-150 SVT Raptor, 2013 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon, 2012 Nissan Frontier PRO-4X and Xterra PRO-4X, 2012 Ram Power Wagon, and 2012 Toyota 4Runner Trail and Tacoma TRD T|X Baja Series.
With the contestants in place, the whole crew put each vehicle through a battery of tests that included skidpad and acceleration measurements, a hillclimb, a rocky stairstep course and a rock garden. Considering the nature of the beasts, on-road ride and comfort were not part of the routine.
Hurricane Sandy was the largest Atlantic storm in US history, and its total economic impact is just now coming into view. According to Automotive News, Toyota, Chrysler, Nissan and Honda are set to scrap around 15,000 new vehicles ruined by the storm. Nissan alone accounts for about 40 percent of those, with 6,000 Nissan and Infiniti models deeded "un-saleable" due to damage. The company saw 56 dealerships shuttered due to the storm, but 51 of those have since reopened.
Toyota, meanwhile, had some 4,000 vehicles at its Newark port facility, and of those, 3,000 may be scrapped. An additional 825 were dealer inventory when they were ruined. Honda and Acura dealers are reportedly sending 3,440 vehicles to the salvage yard. By comparison, Chrysler weathered the storm fairly well with 825 units destroyed, while Hyundai suffered only 400 lost units and Kia scrapped around 200.
As you may recall, Fisker also suffered some losses, and Automotive News reports the manufacturer saw 320 Karma models damaged beyond repair. Ford and General Motors have yet to come up with estimates, and no automaker has commented on the full cost of replacing the vehicles.
We record Episode #305 of the Autoblog Podcast tonight, and we'll be joined by Matt Edmonds of podcast sponsor The Tire Rack, so drop us your questions and comments via the Q&A module below, especially if they have to do with tires and wheels! Subscribe to the Autoblog Podcast in iTunes if you haven't already done so, and if you want to take it all in live, tune in to our UStream (audio only) channel at 10:00 PM Eastern tonight.
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What do you call a Nissan Versa with a new nose and a home in the Indian car market? A Renault Scala. Given a chrome grille insert, the blacked-out crossbar common to Renaults and a few other "status-enhancing" tweaks, the Scala is Renault's fifth offering in India and rounds out its segment coverage.
The Scala is not only positioned as a sedan with value pricing and luxurious equipment, it is presented as a carriage for the chauffeured classes: best-in-class roominess, leather seating, rear vents for the climate control and two cupholders in the rear armrest attend to the boss in the back.
An 86-horsepower diesel and a 99-hp gas engine take care of matters up front. Available now in three trims, it joins the Pulse hatch, Fluence sedan, and Koleos and Duster SUVs in Renault's Indian line-up, and comes with Renault's CompleteCare service and 24/7 Roadside Assistance. Have a read of the press release below for more info.