In an action destined to fuel domestic regional wars for jobs and dollars, Japan's Nissan Motor Co. announced plans yesterday to build a $300 million truck-manufacturing plant in the United States.
At press conferences here and in Tokyo, Nissan officials said the plant would add 2,200 jobs to the economy of a yet-to-be-chosen community in the Great Lakes region or in the Southeast, areas where company officials are "looking at possible sites."
Nissan Japan's second-largest automaker and producer of Datsun cars and trucks, can afford to be choosy.
About 39 states already have offered the company millions of dollars in tax incentives, construction subsidies and "favorable labor conditions" in an effort to attract the plant. In the next several months, after which Nissan plans to make its final site selection, the bidding is expected to become more feverish.
"It's the exact same thing as the great Volkswagen war of the mid-1970s," said Robert Goodman, research director of the Center for the Study of Public Policy in Cambridge, Mass.
"Volkswagen would go to one region and say: 'Hmmmm, this offer looks good.' Then it would go to another region and say the same thing. Mayors and governors were fighting each other like crazy to get that plant," said Goodman, who has spoken and written extensively on regional economic competition.
Pennsylvania, which put up nearly $100 million in state and local tax incentives, new road and rail construction and long-term low-interest loans, finally landed the Volkswagen deal in 1976.
In 1978, when it was scheduled to produce over 50,000 of its Rabbits at its new New Stanton, Pa., plant, Volkswagen paid local taxes that fell below the cost of one of its fuel-efficient passenger cars, Goodman said.
Nissan has no immediate plans to produce passenger cars on American ground. That position bothers Douglas Fraser, president of the United Auto Workers, who lately has been demending that the federal government presure Japanese manufacturers to build here the cars and trucks they sell here.
"If Nissan does move ahead with its truck plant, that still isn't enough," Fraser said in Detroit. "Their volume of car sales in the United States obligates them to open up car plants here as well," he said.
In 1978, an estimated $4.9 billion of Datsun products -- cars, trucks, parts -- and services was sold in the United States, according to company officials. In all, Japanese car and truck manufacturers did about $10 billion in American business that year.
American auto manufacturers and organized auto workers have complained bitterly that Japanese competition is contributing to job losses and slumping sales in the U.S. auto industry. Some, like Fraser, have called for stiffer tariffs on the Japanese products.
Accordingly, there was speculation that Nissan's plans to build some of its trucks on U.S. soil are motivated as much by politics as by economics.
But Nissan officials denied that politics influenced their decision, according to Washington Post foreign correspondent William Chapman.
But the announcement of the proposed plant comes only two weeks before Japan Prime Minister Masayoshi Ohira will pay a state visit to Washington.
Chapman said Ohira has expressed hope that the Japan-U.S. auto conflict be resolved before he arrives.
Nissan officials said they hope to put their U.S. truck plant into operation by 1983. Planned production at the facility is 10,000 trucks per month.
Besides tax incentives and other economic lures being offered by communities competing for the project, Nissan officials say they will need 500 acres of land on which to build their plant.
Interested communities also should have or be willing to train or import from other regions, an ample supply of welders, metalworkers, car body assemblers, painters and skilled mechanics.