CKNA adjusting to Japan crisis

Wednesday, April 13, 2011
CKNA Human Resources and Legal Vice President Robert J. Masteller explains that paid time off for holidays in the future is being taken now to accommodate slowed production because of the earthquake in Japan.

SHELBYVILLE --Japan's March 11 earthquake has forced adjustments at Nissan parts supplier CKNA with plants here and in Lewisburg as workers will soon be supplying parts for five more vehicles.

Because of the "just in time" flow of parts to Nissan's assembly plant in Smyrna, an interruption in production at one plant will affect others, so paid holiday time was applied to Friday and Monday, but such time off will make more production time available in the fall.

Calsonic Kansei North America Human Resources and Legal Vice President Robert J. Masteller provided that overview at his office on Friday and allowed photos in the plants here and in Lewisburg on Tuesday.

One simple example is that the Wednesday before Thanksgiving had been a paid holiday. Nov. 23 will now be a workday at CKNA. That paid day off was applied around last weekend. Other holidays late this year and early next year will provide time off this year when production will be reduced because of the disaster.

"The earthquake was a horrible tragedy for the Japanese people," Masteller said.

And while that's caused delays, he continued, it's affecting production changes as the CKNA plants will soon be providing parts for the all-electric Leaf vehicle as well as the Altima and Maxima cars the plants have been serving.

CKNA will also start supplying four larger vehicles: the Frontier and Titan pickup trucks, and two SUVs, the Nissan Pathfinder and the Infinity version of the Pathfinder, Masteller said.

CKNA will continue to provide exhaust parts such as the catalytic converter and various plastic parts for the Nissan vehicles made in Smyrna, but electronic systems will be a new product to provide as some electric systems will be made elsewhere

Some of the work that CKNA has performed for Nissan has been transferred to Mexico.

"A little bit of the electronics work is going to Mexico," Masteller said, citing production competition.

"That's why we're excited about the electric vehicle," he said of a product that's brought work to the CKNA's Tennessee plants.

His excitement is tempered by a dose of reality recalled from the credit crisis.

"We went through a real tough time in 2008-09 like the rest of the country and the world," Masteller said. "We kept full-time people at the plant..."

Temporary and part-time workers from employment agencies were not continued, he said.

"That was to hold costs down, but we found that the costs were higher than expected," Masteller said.

As a result, losses were greater than expected, he said.

Masteller anticipates having more work available in the fall.

"The future, in my opinion, looks bright, but it's also uncertain," he said.

The price of gasoline continues to be a wild card for new vehicle buyers, he explained. If gasoline costs $5 a gallon by the end of this year - as many anticipate - then it would seem clear that the Nissan Leaf would be a popular car.

However, if the price of gas drops to previous lows, then trucks and SUVs will be more popular.

"I would like to announce that there would be X number of jobs opening in the future," the human resources vice president said, "but I'm skittish with the price of oil, so I would hate to make the prediction."

Meanwhile, CKNA continues to look for opportunities to manufacture more and different car parts for Nissan.