Can production speed and quality coexist? That question depends on how you look at Nissan's recent experience. Its Canton, Mississippi, plant started production in May '03 and is building five products, from full-size SUVs to the Quest minivan and Altima sedan. Not surprisingly, its J.D. Power Initial Quality Survey (IQS) numbers have tumbled. So the answer to the question above may be "No."
That's not an acceptable answer at a company planning to launch 28 new models between FY '05 and FY '07, seven of which will be completely new. To address the problem, Nissan brought 200 Japanese engineers to the U.S. assembly plants (Canton and Smyrna, TN), to Nissan's California and Michigan technical centers, as well as to work with suppliers. According to Dan Gaudette, senior vice president, Nissan Manufacturing and Quality Assurance, "You do what you have to do in order to reach the quality levels you desire." He adds that (1) most of the engineers are now back in Japan, and (2) "our internal surveys show our quality numbers are improving."
While production changes occur on a rolling basis as new models are launched, product changes are implemented on a running basis based on customer feedback. According to Jed Connelly, senior vice president, Sales and Marketing, Nissan North America, "We've changed the instrument cluster graphics and option mix on the Quest, added a damped tailgate to the Titan, and changed color and trim options on the Maxima to name four changes we've made." Often these changes are implemented within the first year of production. "If you're going to succeed," says Connelly, "you have to react quickly and correctly to dealer and customer expectations and demand."
Nissan will continue to work internally and with suppliers to reduce BSRs (Buzzes, Squeaks and Rattles), improve interior color match between panels, and refine the option mix available on each model line. "The J.D. Power ratings are more than measures of things gone wrong," says Gaudette, "they are a measure of things the customer doesn't like, and we are working hard to reduce the annoyance factor." He'd better hurry. In addition to the revamped mid-size truck line, Nissan will soon introduce more versions of the Titan, a new Sentra more closely focused on the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla, as well as a vehicle smaller than the Sentra scheduled to go on sale in North America in the summer of 2006.—CAS