September 25, 2011

On the Patrol for Business

September 25 - Kanda-machi, Fukuoka Prefecture – For much of the five decades Nissan has exported to the Middle East, the automaker's Patrol sport-utility vehicle has been its signature model.

Today, the SUV's star shines as brightly as ever in the region, boosting production at Nissan Shatai's two-year-old Kyushu factory, 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) southwest of Tokyo.

CEO Carlos Ghosn says recent political turmoil in the Gulf region will ultimately spur increased sales of the Patrol and other Nissan and Infiniti models.

“The turmoil that is happening in the Middle East may be worrying in the short term, but certainly not in the long term,” Ghosn said at a visit to the plant last week. “All the crises we are seeing are due to the fact that economies are not as developed as they should be.”

Deliveries in the region are typically of higher margin, upscale models—the kind of export demand that's especially welcome as Japanese manufacturers battle the super-charged yen.

Despite the tough economic environment, Nissan’s Kyushu plants raised output a third in the last fiscal year, while CEO Ghosn says the export-focused production hub will soon account for half of all the carmaker’s domestic output.

“I’m still confident, particularly with the support of all our employees who are helping us by cutting costs and increasing our competitiveness to overcome these very strong headwinds,” Ghosn says.

For M.C. Aseeb, manager of Muscat, Oman-based Arabia Cars, the Patrol's combination of performance and luxury is the key attraction. He's looking to add manual transmission versions to the company's fleet.

"There are places where the Land Cruiser doesn't go but the Nissan Patrol does, especially in the deserts, which are very severe," Aseeb says. “When you are in a Nissan Patrol you feel you're in the comfort of a saloon with the luxury of a saloon, but still you’re off road."

With a new vehicle produced every two minutes at the Nissan Shatai plant, Aseeb and others shouldn't have to wait too long for their next delivery.