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Nissan Moves Forward With NISMO Push Despite UAW Disruption at Geneva

Posted by Dale Buss on March 6, 2013 07:46 PM

Nissan executives are all juiced up about their decision to turn their NISMO motor-sports brand into a global marque and the imminent opening of a new research outpost in Silicon Valley.

But the United Auto Workers is reminding the company that the union may go to the ends of the earth itself in its long-term attempt to organize employees of Nissan's plants in the United States.

Union representatives on Wednesday traveled to the Geneva auto show to hound Nissan executives by passing out leaflets to the media hordes and by holding a press conference designed to embarrass the automaker on an important industry world stage.

"We want Nissan to stop intimidating workers from speaking in support of a union," Chip Wells, a worker at the Nissan assembly plant in Canton, Miss., said in a statement. 

The UAW has been interested in organizing Nissan's U.S. operations for at least thirty years, since Nissan, Toyota and Honda began establishing significant production outposts in America with non-union workers. All Japanese automakers in the U.S. have managed to keep the UAW on the outside looking in over the decades, and the UAW has been turned back in two separate unionization votes at the Nissan plant in Smyrna, Tenn.

But Smyrna workers met in Tennessee this week with UAW representatives who are gearing up their organizating effort again—an overall initiative to get the union installed in a foreign-owned U.S. plant that UAW President Bob King has called crucial to the union's future. Most analysts believe that, if the union does gain representation in any such plant in the U.S., it will be one owned by a German automaker that is more accustomed to working with unions.

In any event, one of the things that Nissan executives were happy to talk about with reporters at the Geneva show was the global debut of NISMO—for Nissan Motorsport International Limited—brand. Although NISMO has been a big deal for Nissan in Japan, now the company is launching an aggressive plan to roll out NISMO-badged cars around the world, starting with a new version of the the Juke model.

Nissan will make a particular push behind NISMO in the U.S., where the brand has never pushed its chops as a performance marque but, rather, has focused its "Shift" and "Innovation" positionings on design, fuel efficiency and functionality. The company just opened a new NISMO headquarters in Yokohama, Japan.

Nissan is also seeking to infuse the company with new thinking about vehicle technology from another source—Silicon Valley. In fact, Nissan plans to create a new advanced product-development center in Sunnyvale, Calif., so it can tap non-automotive thinking for its future products, including its own self-driving car akin to that being pushed by Silicon Valley neighbor Google.

"We don't want these people to be from the auto industry," Carla Bailo said about Sunyvale employees, according to Automotive News. "I envision a very diverse group from different industries to provide us with a new gene pool. We want their innovative and fresh ideas."

That is, presumably, unless they have anything to do with the UAW.

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