Are Nissans American Cars?

March 18, 2013

Although some Nissans are designed and produced in the United States, this does not necessarily mean that they are American cars. In fact, it is becoming increasingly difficult to determine which cars are truly American, in this age of global automotive design, sourcing and production.

Nissan Created: Japan, 1933

Nissan Motor Corporation, headquartered in Yokohama, Japan, began exporting its vehicles from Japan into the United States (under the name Datsun) in the late 1950s, steadily gaining market share in this country throughout the second half of the 20th century. At the beginning of the 21st century, Nissan is partially owned by Renault Motors of France, and it operates manufacturing facilities in more than fifteen countries around the world - including China, India, Spain and Russia (opening in 2010).

Nissan North American Operations: 1966

Nissan's Smyrna, Tennessee plant opened in 1983, but that was not its first factory in North America. Nissan had been manufacturing vehicles in Mexico for more than fifteen years prior to that time. Initially, all of the cars and trucks being built in Tennessee (and Mexico) were designed in Japan, so Nissan's North American operations of that period were mostly limited to production, sales and marketing activities. However, Nissan eventually opened a research and development facility (located just outside Detroit in Farmington Hills, Michigan), as well as a design studio (located just outside San Diego in La Jolla, California), in order to better incorporate the needs and wants of the U.S., Mexican and Canadian consumers into their vehicles being built and marketed in North America. One notable result: in the 1990s, the Nissan Xterra was designed in California specifically for the North American market.

Nissan Continues U.S. Expansion

Twenty years after the Smyrna plant began vehicle manufacturing operations, Nissan opened a second plant in Canton, Mississippi. Both of these assembly plants utilize engines and other parts that are built in the U.S., but many other components are sourced from all over the world. At the present time, Nissan has the capacity to build roughly 950,000 cars and trucks in the United States, but they continue to export some of their cars from Japan and elsewhere to satisfy consumer demand in North America.

Nissan Vehicles Produced and Sold in the U.S.

  • Altima
  • Armada
  • Frontier
  • Maxima
  • Pathfinder
  • Quest
  • Titan
  • Xterra

Nissans Produced Elsewhere, Sold in the U.S.

  • 350Z
  • GT-R
  • Murano
  • Rogue
  • Sentra
  • Versa

Other Brands Built in the U.S.

Before Nissan's Smyrna plant opened, other automotive brands had been building cars in the United States. Both Volkswagen and Honda had already begun to manufacture cars in the U.S. prior to Nissan in 1983. Since that time, BMW, Hyundai, Kia, Mercedes-Benz and Toyota have opened factories across the southeastern region of the country. On the other hand, Ford Motor Company has recently begun importing some of its vehicles into the U.S. from Turkey, providing yet another example of the ambiguity surrounding the term "American" car.

Nonetheless, whether a car is originally built in the U.S., Japan or Turkey, it must be designed to accommodate the tastes and preferences of the U.S. consumer, in order to be successful in this country.

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