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Gradual move into US market has put Nissan in No. 2 spot

By Charles E. DoleAutomotive editor of The Christian Science Monitor / December 16, 1982



Los Angeles

If there's one thing sure about Nissan Motor Corporation in U.S.A., it's very much a going concern, no matter what shape the US automobile market is in these days.

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Sticking up on a 32-acre piece of ground in Carson, Calif., near Long Beach, the nine-story, 10-year-old Nissan headquarters building seems particularly calm inside, with no obvious gung-ho drive to sell cars. Yet outside, the brand-new, bright-red Nissan Pulsar NX, replacing the Datsun 310, sits on its perch - an emphatic symbol of the continuing success of Japan's No. 2 carmaker in the US market.

For one thing, Nissan is selling far more top-of-the-line Maximas now than it did a year ago - a forecast of 48,000 for 1982 compared with 29,000 in 1981.

''It's not just our trying to increase the richness of the mix because of the Japanese restraints on the export of cars to the US, but it's the most popular car, outside of the Sentra, on a worldwide basis,'' reports C. P. King, senior vice-president for sales, Nissan U.S.A.

Maximas are selling for about $12,000, but they're very well equipped, according to Mr. King. About the only options you can get are an automatic or 5 -speed manual transmission. Air conditioning is standard.

In fiscal 1982, Nissan sold 452,000 cars and 98,000 light trucks in the United States. In 1983, however, ''we're looking at about 475,000 cars and 125, 000 trucks.'' Nissan will start building trucks in its new Smyrna, Tenn., assembly plant next August with an annual capacity of 156,000 units.

All 1983 sales projections are based on the Japanese voluntary restraints, which expire March 31, remaining at the same level for another 12 months. ''If there is a lower figure, then our projections go right out the window,'' King asserts .

If the projections stand, besides the Maxima, King sees the company selling 214,000 Sentras in 1983, 63,000 Stanzas, 26,000 200-SXs, and 58,000 280-ZXs. ''If the market is there, and even with the restraints, we expect to meet our goals,'' he adds.

A brand-new 280-ZX is expected for the 1984-model year.

Much of the credit for Nissan's success in the US is given to Yutaka Katayama , now retired from Nissan, although Nissan's top man, Mr. Takashi Ishihara, was the first president of the US subsidiary, founded in 1960. Mr. Katayama's theory , unlike that of Toyota at the time, was a slow, cautious approach to the American auto market, which, he expected, would ultimately pay off.

Meanwhile, Nissan is pushing ahead with its plan to switch from the Datsun nameplate to Nissan alone.

''It'll take another two or three years to complete the job,'' King says.

Interestingly, Nissan has gone from about 5 percent of the people who knew that Datsun was made by Nissan to about 46 percent now, he reports. ''When you say Nissan, they now identify it with Datsun and with the truck plant in Tennessee.''