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Meet the team who builds Canada’s lowest-priced car

Nissan Aguascalientes factory tour

Published April 1, 2014
Neil Moore Neil Moore Neil Moore for Metroland Media Group
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Metroland Media Group for Wheels.ca

AGUASCALIENTES, Mexico: As we neared the end of this apparently never-ending winter, last week’s trip to Mexico was not unwelcome.

Friends and colleagues were expecting my destination to be one of the usual hot spots: Cancun, Acapulco or Puerto Vallarta.

Nowhere on any top-ten list would you find Aguascalientes.

But this 400-year-old colonial city does have its tourist draws, like its historic downtown area and the San Marcos Fair in April.

And for the auto journalist, there’s the added allure of Nissan’s manufacturing operations, where you’ll now find Canada’s lowest priced new car coming off the assembly line.

On route from Jesús Terán Peredo Airport to my hotel, I spotted the two local plants, both adjacent to a modern and well-maintained stretch of the legendary Pan-American Highway known here as Highway 45.

Driving past the factory took a surprising amount of time. The newly built $2 billion Aguascalientes 2 (A-2) facility covers more than 4.6 square kilometers, and the older A-1, just 8 km down the road, was still impressive at 180 hectares.

As you’d expect, Nissan is a big deal here, employing roughly 9,000 between the two locations, and 14,761 including the Cuernavaca plant to the south.

All work for the country’s largest automaker.

Last year, Nissan Mexicana produced 707,000 vehicles, topping giants like General Motors, Ford, Volkswagen and Chrysler, and accounted for nearly one of every four vehicles built in Mexico.

NMEX is also responsible for nearly one half of the 1.5 million vehicles Nissan manufactures in North America. Roughly one-third of NMEX units are destined for the Mexican market where they compete with 30 automotive brands.

The remainder is exported worldwide to more than 100 countries, one of these being Canada.

NMEX builds many of our Nissans, especially their small cars, with the Micra being the latest to join, or shall I say ‘rejoin’ the lineup.

Micra is special, not only for its $9,998 base price, but because we’re getting it cheaper than any other market – even in Mexico where it’s built.

And although this barebones model with five-speed gearbox, manual locks, rollup windows and no air conditioning may not appeal to all buyers, the mid-trim SV models starting at $13,698 (also with five-speed manual) will find more takers. Add $1,000 for four-speed automatic transmission.

These better-equipped Micras, which include air, power windows, keyless entry, Bluetooth, steering wheel controls and more, come in around the same price where some competitors’ no-frills models begin.

So, kudos to Nissan for providing a good entry car for students and other first-timers, not to mention an alternative to going for a used car.

Of course, the company’s ability to offer such penny-pinching transport relies heavily on controlling costs. One of these is transportation, and the central locations of Mexico’s three Nissan plants are ideal for global access.

Labour is another reason. Mexican line workers, as you’d expect, earn significantly less than up here, but the cost of living is also far lower. NMEX wages are in line with other auto sector jobs, not to mention being nearly eight times the country’s minimum wage.

Indeed, these are considered good jobs in what is largely a clean and safe city, and the workers here are as capable as in any other Nissan operation.

“At Nissan Mexicana, our principal strength is our people, our workforce – all of them have been deeply and consciously trained,” said Armando Avila, V.P. of NMEX Manufacturing. “Through our ‘One Team Spirit’ mindset, they recognize themselves as a key element of our company’s success, which makes them feel proud of belonging to this great team.”

The company also demonstrates a green ethic in a country often criticized for its lax environmental protection.

Aguas-1 recycles 100 per cent of waste materials. Metal scrap from stamping, for example, is melted down and reused for other components. Industrial wastewater is chemically treated and filtered to water the gardens and greenspace.

To quell any further thoughts Nissan may be cutting corners in this jurisdiction, company reps were quick to point out their ISO 9001 certification, not to mention numerous company awards and accolades that show Aguascalientes 1 lives up to a high global standard.

So it appears our Canadian Micras are in capable hands.

Nissan recently announced pricing for the 2015 Micra, which is powered by a 109-hp 1.6-litre DOHC four-cylinder with dual fuel injection and continuously variable valve timing control.

In addition to the base model and SV-trim mentioned earlier, the entry unit can be ordered with an autobox (which also includes air conditioning), for $13,298.

The SV can also be upgraded with a $500 convenience package, adding a 4.3-inch display with USB and iPod jack, plus rearview monitor.

The top trim SR – $15,748 with manual or $16,748 with automatic provides some additional bling like leather-wrapped steering, 16-inch alloy wheels, chrome-trimmed foglights, side sills, revised front fascia, headlights and taillights.

No heated seats, but there’s always the larger Versa Note for a few dollars more.

Aguas-1 builds Nissan’s small cars for the global marketplace, and Micra now occupies a key spot on an assembly line that cranks out 65 vehicles per hour and 1,362 vehicles per day.

Which is a good thing, because when it goes on sale here in late April, there’s little doubt that Canada’s lowest-priced new car will keep Nissan showrooms busy.

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