In an unusual move, Nissan Motor plans to shift some of its manufacturing operations ‘back’ to Japan from North America as part of its efforts to improve profitability, the Nihon Keizai (Nikkei) business daily reported yesterday (1 October).

According to Reuters, the Japanese newspaper said production of two Nissan models – the Quest minivan and the Infiniti QX56 sport utility vehicle – was expected to be relocated from their current US plant in Canton, Mississippi, to factories in Japan in 2008 and 2009.

Nissan sold 40,000 Quests and 15,000 of the Infiniti QX56 in North America in 2005, Nikkei reportedly said. Since both vehicles are mainly sold in North America, local production offers the company lower distribution costs, it added, according to Reuters.

Just-auto understands neither model has met initial sales expectations. The Quest, launched initially as a joint venture with Ford’s Mercury division, which sold a version called the Villager, was given a radical-looking interior with central instruments and barrel-shaped centre console when fully redesigned as a Nissan-only product several model years ago, and the stylish cabin though somewhat impractical cabin proved unpopular with buyers, according to the enthusiast press. The cabin was subsequently redesigned as part of a recent mid-life update. The QX56 has suffered from quality niggles symptomatic of wider issues at the relatively new Canton plant which also builds a Nissan-badged version of the Infiniti SUV along with the ‘full size’ Triton truck line.

Given their small sales volumes, Nissan believes that it would be able to cut costs by producing the two models in Japan for export because domestic plants can switch between models and build them more quickly, the daily said, according to the news agency.

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Production volume at the Canton plant would remain unchanged as Nissan plans to increase the production of the pickup truck models there, Nikkei said, according to Reuters.