REFILE-Nissan to make new van at Renault French site-sources

Wed Apr 10, 2013 12:27pm EDT

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By Laurence Frost and Gilles Guillaume

PARIS, April 10 (Reuters) - Nissan plans to move production of a mid-sized van from Spain to Renault's Sandouville plant in France, sources said, helping its French alliance partner keep a pledge to raise domestic output in return for union concessions.

The next version of Nissan's Primastar commercial van will be assembled at the French site alongside Renault's Trafic and a version of GM's Opel Vivaro, which share the same vehicle platform, three people with knowledge of the matter said.

"The decision to pull Primastar out of Barcelona is made," a source close to Nissan said. "It's logical that Primastar production will be combined with other alliance commercial vehicles."

Renault and its 43.4 percent-owned Japanese affiliate both declined to comment on production plans.

Carlos Ghosn, who heads both companies, has promised to increase Renault's French production by 100,000 vehicles for its own brand and 80,000 for Nissan and Daimler by 2016, in return for wage restraint and other union concessions.

French production plans for Renault's partners will be announced within months, he said on March 13.

Some analysts say Renault may struggle to meet competing goals of increased sales and higher pricing amid a European auto market slump that shows no signs of stabilising.

Carlos Tavares, Ghosn's No.2 at Renault, has pledged to narrow the pricing gap with Volkswagen models while achieving the ambitious production targets.

Under Renault-Nissan's 3-year-old partnership with Daimler, French Renault plants already build diesel engines for the German luxury carmaker, as well as the Mercedes-Benz Citan delivery van based on Renault's Kangoo.

According to Jacques Verdonck, the alliance director in charge of cooperation with Daimler, Renault's Maubeuge plant is to build 40,000 Citans this year, contributing an increase of 26,000 vehicles over 2012 output towards Ghosn's 80,000 target.

But in a setback for the Renault-Daimler partnership and French production, the German carmaker said it had "reconsidered" tentative plans for a battery-powered Citan paired with Renault's electric Kangoo.

"Right now we don't see a need for an electric version of the Citan, after a close look at the business case and customer demand," a Daimler spokesman told Reuters.

The larger Mercedes Vito has recorded fewer than 1,000 deliveries of an electric version launched in early 2011, suggesting demand for a battery-powered Citan "is not on a scale that would make a business case", the spokesman said.

The Nissan Primastar's move will follow the 2014 introduction of a new Renault Trafic - also being transferred to Sandouville from GM's plant in Luton, England and Nissan's Barcelona plant under previously announced plans.

The Spanish site produced just 4,600 Primastars last year, but sales are expected to rise with the replacement of the 12-year-old model.

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