Nissan Builds More Than Cars and Trucks in Tennessee








Pundits wondered whether a Japanese automotive company could succeed in a state with no previous history of automotive manufacturing when Nissan announced it would build its first Japanese automotive company in Smyrna, Tenn. in 1980. Nissan Motor Manufacturing took on the challenge, determined to make the new company one of the state’s top employers, a leading corporate citizen, and an automotive role model.


Nissan engaged Atkinson to develop and implement a comprehensive reputation management plan with all internal and external audiences. Atkinson developed the following six major strategies to achieve Nissan’s ambitious objectives:

  • Recommended high salaries and unprecedented employee benefits such as access to leased Nissan vehicles and ongoing training and skill development to build the company’s position as one of the most desirable places to work in Tennessee
  • Positioned Nissan as a pacesetter for the application of innovative management and manufacturing techniques in the U.S. and world automotive industry
  • Fostered high employee morale and company pride through effective employee communications and events
  • Developed strong media relations and generated proactive local, national and international media coverage
  • Established Nissan as a generous contributor to and participant in worthy community concerns
  • Built Nissan’s high profile in the U.S. automotive industry through participation in industry organizations, speeches by executives and a monthly workshop and tour for business leaders from around the country









Initially the Japanese parent company had concerns about Americans’ ability to build at the same high quality standards as high as Japan, but after three years quality studies showed Nissan products from Smyrna were better than their Japanese counterparts.

The Japanese shipped the Smyrna vehicles back to Japan to study how they did it. Here are some other measures of Atkinson’s success:

Media relations

  • More than 200 media made individual visits to Nissan during the start up
  • 500 attended various news conferences in the first three years
  • 105 media attended luncheons and briefing sessions

Community relations

More than 350 business leaders and 200 state and local elected officials visited the plant for various events and updates during the construction period

Employee engagement

Each year the Rensis-Liket attitudinal survey showed Nissan employees viewed the company much more favorably than industry peers

Reputation building

A survey on the company’s reputation by Keckley Market Research reported “Nissan is perceived positively on every image attribute, and when compared to other local industries, is clearly viewed more favorably.”

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