A lot is riding on the launch of Nissan Motor Co. Ltd.'s all-new Pathfinder, namely the reputation of the auto maker, which until recently was a quality frontrunner in the U.S. market.

The new-generation '05 Pathfinder began volume production Aug. 30 at Nissan's manufacturing plant in Smyrna, TN. The auto maker recognizes it cannot afford problems such as those that have plagued its Canton, MS-made models.

“It's being built in a plant with a long history of excellent quality,” Larry Dom-inique, chief product specialist-trucks and SUVs, tells Ward's at the Pathfinder media preview. There's a “well-established workforce, so we're not bringing a lot of new people online.”

All five models produced at the Canton facility — the Nissan Titan pickup, Armada SUV, Quest minivan, Altima sedan and Infiniti QX56 SUV — have been criticized for poor quality, and Nissan North America Inc. scored low in the recent J.D. Power & Associates' Initial Quality Survey rankings of '04 models — an 8% falloff from '03.

Dominique says Nissan engineering sent its “launch team” to Smyrna for the Pathfinder to address all issues relative to design, quality, etc. “The team's been very active the last couple of months,” he says.