Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. is leading the pack in embracing modularization, starting with its Smyrna, TN-built, new-for-'02 Altima midsize sedan, says Shigeo Ishida, president of Nissan Technical Center North America. Use of modules for the Altima's cockpit, front end and doors, has effected a 5% cost saving and reduced assembly time by 10% over the previous generation. Plus, Mr. Ishida says modularization boosts quality by creating more checkpoints.

Mr. Ishida says the savings generated by modular assembly are small compared to what they will be once Nissan starts assembling a pickup, SUV and minivan at its Canton, MS, plant in early 2003. Each vehicle will use at least three modules, including cockpit and front end. Suppliers also will assemble and ship entire frames for some vehicles, something previously not done at Nissan, officials say.