Nissan grew its passenger market share in South Africa by 44 percent last year.Photo: Reuters

JOHANNESBURG - Nissan South Africa has invested R1 billion in its operations in the past three years, including R500 million in the past year, to upgrade and revitalise its manufacturing operations in preparation for an aggressive sales and market share drive.

Juan Busquets, the executive director, manufacturing and skills development at Nissan SA, said that R500m was spent on plant facilities to prepare it to be flexible because they needed a plant in South Africa that could build anything and could also adapt quickly to any request.

Busquets said the plant since January this year could produce frame and non-frame vehicles on the same line, which was unique in that only one other Nissan plant in Japan had this capability.

All pick-up had frames with the cabin on top of the frame, while passenger vehicles and sport utility vehicles were non-frame vehicles.

Mike Whitfield, the managing director of Nissan South Africa, stressed the R1bn invested in the Rosslyn plant in the past three years was not model specific, but they would have to update the market on its future model plans within the next three months.

Whitfield added that the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance had a manufacturing organisation and Nissan SA still had 80000 units a year capacity that it was still able to utilise.

He said Nissan SA’s plant was currently producing the NP200 and NP300 light commercial vehicles and the intention globally was to stop production of both these models next year.

But Whitfield said there was increasing recognition of the demand for a good, safe, reliable and tough pick-up and the production of these models at the Rosslyn plant would continue.

“Today we are the global plant for the Nissan NP300. The plant is recognised as a player in the global network".

“Nissan has 40 plants in the world with Nissan and Renault, but with the progression we have made over the last four years, we (Rosslyn) are very much seen as a world plant". 

“That is what we have been investing in and we are probably better prepared than we ever have been to go to the next step,” he said.

Whitfield said they would definitely be exporting more NP300s and were currently in the process of identifying potential export markets.

Busquets said the Rosslyn plant would produce about 20000 vehicles this year but had the capacity to build 100000 vehicles on two shifts.

Xavier Gobille, the executive director sales and marketing at Nissan SA, said Nissan and Datsun sold 54700 vehicles in South Africa last year but had a target of increasing its total sales in the country to a six-digit figure.

Gobille declined to provide a target date to achieve this.

He said Nissan increased its market share by 25% last year from 8% to 10% in a flat domestic market.

But Gobille said that even with the 25percent market share growth they had not nearly achieved the potential of the brand.

Gobille said Nissan’s light commercial vehicle market share grew by 17.2 % last year compared to the previous year, and with a 19.5% market share in this segment was among the top two in the market.

He said Nissan grew its passenger market share by 44% last year compared to the previous year to achieve a market share of 5.6percent.

Gobille said that Nissan would be launching a market offensive in sub-Saharan Africa while its 120-strong dealer network would be investing millions of rand over the next two years to give the dealerships a new visual identity.

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- BUSINESS REPORT ONLINE