BARCELONA – Nissan Spain launches assembly of its new-generation NP300 Navara 1-ton pickup here.

The Japanese automaker has invested €80 million ($88 million) in the program, which eventually will add 1,000 new jobs at the Barcelona facility.

Combined with units of the same model that will be assembled for Mercedes-Benz and Renault, the small Pulsar car, the NV200 light-commercial vehicle and its all-electric derivative, the eNV200, Nissan Spain hopes achieve annual production of 200,000 units, or 80% of the plant’s capacity, within a few years.

The Navara arrives on the European market this month and in Middle Eastern markets in mid-2016. Production of Mercedes and Renault versions launch later. Colin Lawther, senior vice president-manufacturing for Nissan Europe, says the Navara platform will account for 120,000 of the 200,000 units of production scheduled for 2017.

“It is true that this will place us (at about) 80% of the maximum production capacity, but this maximum capacity could even be extended to 240,000 units – over 100% – using all available measures of flexibility,” Lawther says.

Nissan Europe President Paul Wilcox notes during the launch ceremony that the Barcelona plant had fallen on hard times when the Spanish auto market was declining and sales of models such as the previous-generation Navara, Pathfinder and Primaster van were foundering. The new Navara, however, continues a tradition begun 32 years ago when Barcelona began building the Nissan Patrol, the first all-wheel-drive vehicle made in Europe, he says.

“With 80 years of pickup heritage, the new NP300 Navara is exactly what we expected from a rugged (AWD vehicle) which has incorporated the most advanced technology of a crossover,” Wilcox says.

The pickup was designed for Europe at the Nissan Technical Center in Barcelona, where engineers developed the new 2.3L dCi engine and adjusted noise levels and the steering, suspension and brakes to European motorists’ tastes.

The chassis is strengthened by a completely redesigned rear suspension that replaces springs with five arms in the double-cab version, improving driving comfort and maneuverability without adding weight. To the contrary, this new suspension weighs 44 lbs. (20 kg) less than the previous one.

Nissan claims the Navara’s 2.3L diesel engine is 24% more efficient than its predecessor. It will be marketed in 160- and 190-hp versions, the latter with twin turbocharging and 2- or 4-wheel drive. Transmissions come in a choice of 6-speed manual or 7-speed automatic.

Asked about the future of the diesel engine following the Volkswagen emissions-cheating scandal, Wilcox says he doesn’t think the controversy will cause structural changes in the automotive industry, although production costs of diesel engines likely will increase.

Lawther says he expects new legislation will require that emissions testing gets progressively closer to real driving conditions.

Discussing trends in the global auto market, Wilcox says Nissan has enjoyed five years of continued growth in Europe, which has allowed his company to overtake Toyota in Europe. But he admits Nissan hasn’t been as successful in some markets outside Europe.

“Regarding BRIC markets, car demand is in clear downturn in Brazil and Russia, while India remains a very difficult market, and we all know the big fluctuations that the Chinese economy is experiencing,” Wilcox says.

Pangikuthira Ponz, director-light commercial vehicles for Nissan Europe, says there are no plans to assemble the Navara to be assembled in Mexico for sale in the NAFTA region comprising the U.S., Mexico and Canada.

“These are markets where the usual pickup concept has higher tonnages than the NP300 Navara. However, if we see an opportunity there for this new product, we will consider it,” Pangikuthira says.