Bill Krueger

Senior Vice President, Manufacturing, Purchasing
and Supply Chain Management, Nissan North America

I would say for Nissan, the keywords are fast, frugal and flexible for our automation. We don’t want it to be so heavily capital intensive that it relies on scale. What we really look for is small, innovative applications of automation that interfaces with the human touch, because there’s nothing more flexible and nimble than a human being when it comes to manufacturing. But at the same time, there’s routine, very repetitive type of work. Automation can come in and relieve some of the arms and leg power and allow the automakers to have more flexibility with their workforce and use the brain to come up with innovative solutions.

I think 20 years ago, the thought of having this no-lights or lights-out dark factory [was] way overstated. We’re really looking for that balance to have applicable automation. And I would say that it’s the [information technology] and the integration of information in the factory that’s probably more relevant than the automation, mechanical, electrical replacement of humans. It’s the information transfer that’s probably more prevalent on my mind when we’re setting up new auto plants, new factories, new engine plants.

I think, like we’ve seen with cellphones and with other technologies, that some of the emerging markets are going to leapfrog, and they’re not going to be stuck with the traditional models that we’ve seen in the U.S. And I don’t think we’ll be able to just push older models with lower technology onto the emerging countries like we’ve done in the past.

I think the information about what’s available out there for the consumer we’re seeing that the consumers are very hungry. They’re very tech-savvy. They want the things that the more-developed economies and more-developed countries have.

We’re exporting out of Tennessee to Brazil, to Russia, to China, already models that we’re producing. And they’re no less interested in technology, safety, fuel economy, alternative fuel options.