The electric vehicle production challenges of General Motors, Ford, Volkswagen and various startups have gotten a lot of headlines this year. But despite being an electric pioneer, Nissan has had plenty of headaches of its own. Its Nissan Ariya crossover has faced innumerable production challenges and software woes since its launch two years ago, leading to a fairly limited supply on dealer lots and only fairly middling sales. But now, Nissan executives in Japan say that production of the Ariya is getting much more dialed in.

Managers at Nissan's high-tech Tochigi Plant, where the Ariya is made, told Automotive News that the current production line is "underutilized" and only operating at two-thirds capacity. In other words, Nissan is making far fewer Ariya crossovers there than it potentially can, hampered by the array of new manufacturing techniques employed there. "It's a totally new factory with totally new processes. We had many headwinds," one plant manager told the publication. 

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Nissan's rocky start to a new EV era

Nissan was an early leader in the EV space when it launched the Leaf way back in 2010. But it's been accused of dropping that ball to players like Tesla and the Chinese automakers, and now it's struggled to become a leader in the space again with the Ariya's production issues. 

The worst of those headwinds may now be behind Nissan, executives said. Automotive News reports Nissan claims "newfound confidence in troubleshooting," and the technologies and techniques pioneered at the Tochigi Plant will trickle down to other Nissan facilities—including one in Canton, Miss. that's due to make four new EVs for the U.S. market from 2026 onward.

Here's where Nissan is at now, according to that story:

New production methods are deployed at Tochigi Plant, including several world-first techniques, for a 10 percent production cost reduction over older methods, despite building more complex vehicles.

One key innovation is a new powertrain assembly technique called a simultaneous underfloor mounting operation. This technique delivers new efficiencies by mounting all the vehicle's powertrain components simultaneously from a plug-in pallet that is lifted into the body and fitted by robots. The front, middle and rear of the pallet are made of interchangeable modules that can accommodate multiple layouts for electric, hybrid and internal combustion engine vehicles.

[Plant manager Eiji Kikuchi] said Nissan is also studying gigacasting, though he declined to offer details. The technique, pioneered by Tesla, eliminates countless individual metal parts by casting a vehicle's sections as giant modules. Toyota, Volvo, Ford and Hyundai are considering or adopting the technology.

These challenges mirror that of most, if not all, legacy automakers who have sought to seize a leadership position in the EV transition. Pivoting to making batteries and developing software at scale, and matching those low-cost production techniques pioneered by Tesla to get prices down and profits up, has proven extremely difficult across the entire industry. (Gigacasting in particular is seen as a key to matching Tesla's scale and cost control; read more about why it's a big deal here.) 

There are two notable stories at work here. The first concerns the Ariya, which has been a decent and generally well-received modern EV effort from Nissan. But it's not an especially groundbreaking car, nor has it proven to have some major edge over various competitors in the crowded midsize crossover space. Furthermore, its low production numbers to date have kept it from being real competition to Hyundai, Tesla and the rest.

Gallery: Nissan Ariya First Drive

If the Tochigi Plant is really sorting out its issues, it may help a lot more Ariyas get to dealer lots and soon. Unfortunately, being built in Japan means it is excluded from any U.S. tax credits unless leased, although we have found some pretty spectacular Ariya deals lately if you decide to go that route. With any luck, the Ariya can become a much more serious contender in 2024 and beyond.

The second, arguably more important story here, is about the future. The Ariya could be seen as a "rough draft" for the high-volume production techniques the Tochigi Plant is building out. Those same production techniques are expected to spread to Nissan's other global factories, and we know the automaker has big EV plans soon: U.S.-built cars, more crossovers, a new Leaf and even electric sedans that draw on iconic nameplates. Nissan has also said it only plans to sell EVs in Europe from 2030 onward, so smaller, more affordable models are expected to be on the menu too. 

Nissan has a long way to go to reclaim the position it once had in the EV world, but maybe things are starting to look up. 

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