Nissan plans major boost in car imports


Nissan Motor Co. may overtake Volkswagen as Japan’s biggest car importer as it steps up shipments of vehicles made offshore to mitigate the strength of the yen.

Nissan, Japan’s second-largest automaker, began selling a redesigned Latio compact Friday, the Yokohama-based company said. The automaker is targeting monthly sales of 1,200 units of the car, which is made in Thailand.

“It’s possible that with this car, Nissan will become the biggest importer to Japan in terms of volume next year,” Kuniyasu Tsuzuki, chief product specialist for the revamped model, said. “In the long run, Nissan may have more models produced overseas and sold here at home.”

The move underscores the efforts by Nissan Chief Executive Officer Carlos Ghosn to move production overseas amid a broader shift by Japanese manufacturers to counter a yen that has strengthened more than 30 percent in the past four years, making exports less competitive. Nissan made 75 percent of its vehicles outside Japan, compared with about half for Toyota Motor Corp.

“Nissan moves much more aggressively than other carmakers in Japan in transferring production overseas,” said Yoshiaki Kawano, an analyst with IHS Automotive in Tokyo. “This will not be the last model that it imports to Japan.”

In the first nine months of the year, Nissan imported 34,512 vehicles into Japan, compared with 41,971 for Volkswagen, according to Japan Automobile Importers Association data.

Nissan shut one of two production lines at its Oppama plant in Kanagawa Prefecture and phased out manufacturing of the Latio in Japan this year. The automaker has sold 160,000 Latios in the country in the past eight years, the company said.

The new Latio features a smaller three-cylinder, 1.2-liter engine and fuel efficiency of 22.6 km per liter, according to Nissan. The compact is designed with more legroom and back-seat comfort and is targeted at the elderly and corporate buyers, Tsuzuki said last month.

Japan is the last and smallest market where Nissan is introducing the model, according to Tsuzuki. The new Latio is also available in China, U.S., Mexico, Brazil, Thailand and India, with cumulative sales of more than 500,000 units to date, the company said.

Nissan overtook BMW and Daimler in 2011 to become the largest importer of cars after Volkswagen. Nissan currently imports the March compact from Thailand.