Nissan South Africa expects to begin commercial production of the new Navara pick up truck in January 2021, the company said on Monday.

The news came soon after Nissan announced a major restructuring plan which will see its light commercial vehicle plant in Barcelona, Spain, closed. The plant currently builds the Navara and NV-200 van line.

According to Business Day, former managing director (MD) Mike Whitfield, who is now MD of Nissan Egypt but remains chair of the Nissan group’s Southern Africa operations, said plans to launch the vehicle later this year in SA had been delayed by the COVID-19 outbreak.

The company had announced in 2019 Nissan Motor would spend R3bn to produce the vehicle at the Rosslyn assembly plant in Tshwane. The investment was expected to create 400 extra jobs at Nissan SA and another 800 at components suppliers.

The plant already builds two pickup [known locally as bakkie] ranges, the Hardbody one-tonner and smaller NP200. Both will continue.

According to Business Day, Nissan SA MD Shinkichi Izumi said the plant would be a pick up manufacturing hub for sub Saharan Africa.

Rosslyn has a long standing contract to supply Hardbody KD kits for assembly in Nigeria and Izumi said he was looking for similar opportunities in Ghana and Kenya.

The Navara was likely to be part of those discussions.

Izumi also said Rosslyn would build both single and double cab versions.

Hardbody and NP200 bakkies are primarily working vehicles in South Africa.

Navara is more upmarket, aimed at the leisure market currently dominated by the likes of the Toyota Hilux – exported to UK and Europe – and Ford Ranger.

Whitfield said much of the new equipment needed to build the Navara was already in place.

Once complete, Rosslyn’s annual single shift production capacity across all product ranges would initially be about 45,000 which could easily be increased with more shifts.

The previous capacity was 35,000, much of which has recently been surplus to requirements.

Even before Covid-19 wreaked havoc, the domestic new-vehicle market had been in the doldrums for some years. So had African markets, the target for Nissan exports, Business Day said.

Guillaume Cartier, chair of the Nissan group Africa, Middle East and India region, said on Monday the SA company had to “enlarge” its export destinations.

Europe is a major market for SA-made Toyotas and Fords.

Izumi said increased production would allow Nissan SA to increase local content in its vehicles and give more access to volume based incentives.

The government will implement a new motor industry development strategy, the SA automotive masterplan, in 2021.