Posted on April 21, 2015
By Michelle Willard
SMYRNA – With the fanfare usually reserved for visiting dignitaries, Nissan launched production of the eight-generation Maxima Tuesday morning at the Smyrna Assembly and Battery Plant.
To launch the Japanese automaker's flagship sedan, the employees who assembled it were led through the plant by the Tennessee State University marching band, and the new Maxima was unveiled with flashing lights, music and confetti in what was billed as the world's largest indoor parade.
Gov. Bill Haslam, U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander and Randy Boyd, Tennessee Economic and Community Development commissioner, joined the employees to celebrate the start of production for the all-new 2016 Nissan Maxima.
"When Nissan came to Tennessee more than 30 years ago, there were almost no auto jobs in the state," Alexander, a Tennessee Republican said, said.
The story of auto manufacturing in Tennessee can be traced back to Rutherford County, the senator said.
About 37 years ago, Alexander walked across the state to campaign for governor and about halfway through he stopped overnight at a home in Milton, located in northern Rutherford County.
"The soon-to-be governor needed a place to stay and my parents invited him in," said Randy Knight, Nissan's vice president of manufacturing for the Smyrna Vehicle Assembly Plant.
That night, Knight's mother implored Alexander to bring good jobs to Tennessee, so her sons, Randy and Ricky Knight, would stay close to home.
"Now they both work at the plant," Alexander said.
And that plant has become the economic glue that holds the state together, officials said.
"Three decades later," Alexander said, "about one-third of our manufacturing jobs are auto-related, auto suppliers have located in 80 counties and our family incomes are higher. I want to thank Nissan for providing opportunities for thousands of talented Tennesseans."
The latest opportunity afforded Tennesseans is embodied in the new Maxima, which unveiled earlier this month at the New York International Auto Show.
"With today's launch, Nissan and Tennessee begin another chapter in their long and successful partnership defined by high-quality vehicles and the innovation of its workforce," Gov. Haslam said at the launch. "We want to thank Nissan for continuing to invest here, helping build Tennessee's reputation as a leading automotive manufacturing state."
The first U.S.-assembled Maxima rolled off the assembly line in Smyrna in January 2003. Since then, Nissan has produced nearly 800,000 Maxima sedans at the plant, with more than 60,000 shipped to markets worldwide. Maxima is one of six models currently built at the Smyrna plant and is assembled on the same line as the Altima midsize sedan and all-electric Nissan LEAF.
The 2016 Maxima, a sporty four-door, goes on sale this summer, starting at $32,410, which is $1,120 more than the current base model. The new Maxima will come in five trim levels, including a premium platinum model for about $40,000.
Japan's second-largest automaker is looking for the new Maxima to build on the success of the brand's crossover utility vehicles in boosting sales volumes and competing for customers with higher-end makes.
U.S. sales of the Rogue subcompact sport utility vehicle rose 41 percent in March and the redesigned mid-sized Murano is bringing in more affluent buyers, said Derrick Hatami, vice president of sales for Nissan North America.
"When you look at the vehicle from the perspective of the styling and technology in there, and performance heritage, we're going to see a different Maxima buyer when it's launched," Hatami said.
The new Maxima is lower, longer and lighter, Chief Executive Officer Carlos Ghosn told the Associated Press. The new Maxima is 82 pounds lighter, letting the 300-horsepower car cruise down the highway at 30 miles (48 kilometers) per gallon, he said.
Nissan increased the Maxima's technology as well. A navigation system is standard on all trim levels. Safety features such as forward collision warning and forward emergency braking are standard on the three priciest versions.
The new Maxima should attract a wealthier, male customer base than the current version does, Hatami said. He also expects it to win customers from luxury brands including Honda's Acura and Nissan's own Infiniti.