Nissan do Brasil this week began sales of its first locally-made vehicle, the Frontier pickup, writes Rogério Louro.

The model is produced in the Renault-Nissan Alliance commercial vehicles and pickup factory in São José dos Pinhais city, Paraná state.

Nissan started Frontier production at the end of April. The Brazilian version is essentially the same design as the American model but has a locally-made MWM 2.8-litre 132 bhp turbodiesel engine.

The vehicle is built only in double cab form with the choice of two- or four-wheel drive.

Nissan is initially selling the locally-made Frontier only in Brazil but exports to other South American countries begin at year's end.

In May 2003, Nissan is scheduled to start building its second Brazilian model, the XTerra SUV.

To produce these two models, Nissan invested $US100 million in the São José dos Pinhais plant while Renault coughed up $US136 million.

The plant was opened in December 2001 and also produces the Renault Master van on a separate assembly line though the paint shop is shared with the Nissan Frontier. Over 90% of parts suppliers are common to both ranges.

Nissan expects the Frontier and XTerra to spark a huge growth in its annual sales in the Mercosur countries - from under 3,000 units last year to annual sales of 150,000 by 2010.

Nissan is also evaluating production of the recently redesigned compact Micra car in Brazil. The model shares it platform with the next generation Renault Clio and would be produced in Renault's Brazilian car factory also located in São José dos Pinhais.

To assist Nissan's expansion plans, the company is partnering with Renault in Mercosur sales and administration operations and, in Brazil and Argentina, Nissan vehicles are sold by Renault dealers.