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By Roy Stephen C. Canivel

Ja­panese car­maker Nis­san will close its sole car as­sem­bly plant in La­guna in March, mark­ing the lat­est shut­down in an in­dus­try that has been find­ing fewer rea­sons to make cars in the Philip­pines when it is cheaper to make them else­where. 

Nis­san Philip­pines Inc. (NPI) wrote to the Depart­ment of Trade and In­dus­try (DTI) on Wed­nes­day, in­form­ing Trade Sec­re­tary Ra­mon Lopez about its de­ci­sion to shut­ter its as­sem­bly plant in the City of Santa Rosa. 

A copy of the let­ter from NPI pres­i­dent At­sushi Na­jima was seen by the In­quirer. 

The com­pany made the de­ci­sion af­ter the ex­pi­ra­tion of its con­tract with its Filipino ve­hi­cle as­sem­bly part­ner Uni­va­tion Mo­tor Philip­pines Inc. (UMPI). 

The DTI on Thurs­day said 133 work­ers would be laid off, but the la­bor depart­ment would help them find jobs in the man­u­fac­tur­ing sec­tor. They would also re­ceive “rea­son­able com­pen­sa­tion pack­ages,” it said. 

Nis­san’s mar­ket­ing and dis­tri­bu­tion net­work will con­tinue sell­ing its ve­hi­cles pro­duced in Thai­land and Ja­pan. 

Last year, NPI was con­sid­er­ing shut­ting down its plant due to weak sales and the low mar­ket share of its four­door Almera sedan, which it has been as­sem­bling in Santa Rosa since 2013, ac­cord­ing to the DTI. 

Nis­san would be the third ve­hi­cle maker in Santa Rosa to cease op­er­a­tions, af­ter Ford Mo­tor Co. in June 2012 and Honda Cars Philip­pines Inc. in March 2020, ac­cord­ing to Mayor Ar­lene Ar­cil­las.

Isuzu’s pickup truck as­sem­bly plant in nearby Biñan town closed down ear­lier in 2019. 

Ar­cil­las said NPI in­formed her of its de­ci­sion two weeks ear­lier. Pi­o­neer car firms “We are sad­dened … since (Nis­san) was one of the pi­o­neer car com­pa­nies that made Santa Rosa their home,” she told the In­quirer in a phone in­ter­view. She said Nis­san was one of the city’s top tax­pay­ers. 

UMPI will keep op­er­at­ing in the city for its other ve­hi­cle brands, Ar­cil­las said. 

Nis­san’s oper­a­tion in Santa Rosa started in Oc­to­ber 1997. Aside from Toy­ota and Mitsubishi, the city hosts Columbia Mo­tors, which man­u­fac­tures trucks and buses. More than 380 work­ers lost their jobs when Honda shut down its plant last year. 

Nis­san is one of the best-sell­ing brands in the Philip­pines, be­hind mar­ket lead­ers and fel­low Ja­panese car­mak­ers Toy­ota and Mitsubishi. Data, how­ever, sug­gests that this kind of suc­cess is pos­si­ble even with­out mak­ing cars lo­cally. 

Ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cial in­dus­try data, Nis­san sold a to­tal of 42,694 ve­hi­cles in 2019, a 22.2-per­cent in­crease from 2018. Dur­ing that time, only 4,500 of them were the lo­cally as­sem­bled Almera, or 4 per­cent of the en­tire pas­sen­ger car mar­ket, the DTI said.

It was also one of the best-sell­ing brands in 2020, de­spite the chal­lenges brought about by the pan­demic and the Taal Vol­cano erup­tion. Its vol­ume sales dropped 49 per­cent last year to 21,751 ve­hi­cles. It is not clear how many of these were Almera. 

In his let­ter to Lopez, Na­jima said the shut­down was a move “to­ward op­ti­mized pro­duc­tion and ef­fi­cient busi­ness op­er­a­tions in the Asean (As­so­ci­a­tion of South­east Asian Na­tions)” and part of the “Nis­san NEXT trans­for­ma­tion plan.” He was re­fer­ring to a fouryear plan an­nounced by Nis­san head­quar­ters last year to achieve prof­itabil­ity by fis­cal year 2023 partly by cut­ting pro­duc­tion ca­pac­ity by 20 per­cent. In a press state­ment in May 2020, Nis­san Mo­tor said part of this ra­tio­nal­iza­tion plan was to close its man­u­fac­tur­ing plant in In­done­sia and fo­cus on Thai­land “as sin­gle pro­duc­tion base in Asean.” 

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