Black wheels and orange highlights make the Navara Stealth stand out from the bakkie crowd. Picture: SUPPLIED
Black wheels and orange highlights make the Navara Stealth stand out from the bakkie crowd. Picture: SUPPLIED

Nissan SA expects to begin commercial production of the new Navara pick-up in January 2021, the company said on Monday.

Former MD Mike Whitfield, who is now MD of Nissan Egypt but remains chair of the Nissan group’s Southern Africa operations, said plans to launch the vehicle later this year had been delayed by the Covid-19 outbreak.

The company announced in 2019 that its Japanese parent would spend R3bn to produce the vehicle at the Rosslyn assembly plant in Tshwane.

The Navara investment is expected to create 400 extra jobs at Nissan SA and another 800 at components suppliers.  ​

The plant already builds two bakkie ranges, the Hardbody one-tonner and smaller NP200. Both will continue.

Nissan SA MD Shinkichi Izumi said on Monday the plant would be a pick-up manufacturing hub for Sub-Saharan Africa.

Rosslyn has a long-standing contract to supply Hardbody kits for reassembly in Nigeria, and Izumi said he was looking for similar opportunities in Ghana and Kenya. The Navara is likely to be part of those discussions. Izumi said Rosslyn would build both single and double-cab versions.

Hardbody and NP200 bakkies are primarily working vehicles.

Navara is more upmarket, aimed at the leisure market currently dominated by the likes of the Toyota Hilux and Ford Ranger.

In a global joint venture with the Nissan group, Mercedes-Benz used the Navara as the base for its own X-Class luxury pick-up range.

Whitfield said much of the new equipment needed to build the Navara was already in place.

Once complete, Rosslyn’s annual single-shift production capacity across all product ranges would initially be about 45,000 — a number that could easily be increased with more shifts.

The previous capacity was 35,000, much of which has recently been surplus to requirements.

Even before Covid-19 wreaked havoc, the domestic new-vehicle market had been in the doldrums for some years. So had African markets, the target for Nissan exports.

Guillaume Cartier, chair of the Nissan group’s Africa, Middle East and India region, said on Monday the SA company had to “enlarge” its export destinations.

Europe is a major market for SA-made Toyotas and Fords.

Izumi said increased production would allow Nissan SA to increase local content in its vehicles and give more access to volume-based incentives.

The government will implement a new motor industry development strategy, the SA automotive masterplan, in 2021.

Furlongerd@businesslive.co.za