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Business Monthly - Yorozu outlook is improving
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Quality engineer Jeff Cantrell, left, and assembly colleague Charlie Boyd Jr. inspect a Honda rear subframe for the Honda MDX vehicle.
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Tool and die handwork colleague Greg Meeks, left, and progressive press operator Casey Campbell are discussing needed maintenance on one of Yorozu’s 1,100 current production dies.

Yorozu Automotive Tennessee (YAT) is located at 395 Mountain View Industrial Drive in the Morrison industrial park. 

I met with Wayne Cox, operations manager, who is a 32-year veteran with the company.  Nissan is Yorozu’s largest customer. This business is down 40% year-to-date due to the worldwide shortage of semiconductor chips and the COVID-19 epidemic in Asia. The latter is adversely affecting Nissan vendors.  

Nissan does have an aggressive second-half shipping forecast to make up a lot of the shortfall. Other customers for Yorozu are doing well, however the semiconductor chip shortage has recently begun to affect these customers as well. With known products and planned production, the local Yorozu plant expects to be busy at a “comfortable” capacity going forward.  

Yorozu, like most companies, is challenged to find enough qualified employees. They currently have openings in the production work force of 28 and five in preventative maintenance and engineering.  

A good piece of news is Yorozu is up-to-speed on making suspension systems for electric vehicles (EVs). They have been making the suspension for the Nissan Leaf for over 10 years now.  

Nissan will launch its new EV SUV, the Ariya, later this year. It will be made in Japan only to begin with. Yorozu-Japan will make the suspension system. 

The EV suspension system is lighter than its gasoline counterpart, but not as much as one might think. Thus Yorozu is well positioned to deal with the transition to EV’s. It would seem Nissan would want to make the Ariya in Tennessee.  

This is a natural fit to compete with Volkswagen EV SUV (Chattanooga) and the Cadillac EV SUV (Spring Hill).  Nissan-Decherd has been making the electric engine for the Leaf and could ramp us for the Ariya.

The current headcount at YAT is 765 employees. It was 879 a year ago. The target number for normal ongoing operations is 800. There are another 200 employees at the Yorozu Automotive Alabama (YAA) plant.  The YAA plant caters to Nissan in Canton, MS, Mercedes Benz near Birmingham, AL, Toyota in Mississippi, and Honda in Alabama.

Nissan did make a profit in the last quarter, an achievement they were most pleased about. Nissan is concentrating on these new products in the US – the Rogue, Pathfinder, Infinity QX60, and Frontier. These are technology driven and doing well in the U.S. market.  

Yorozu has earned a majority of the suspension system business at Nissan. They have about 30%-40% of the business at Honda, and about 10% at Toyota. Yorozu is focused on earning more business at Toyota submitting production samples at this time. There is ample business with the existing customers to keep the local plant busy.  

Yorozu advertises in the local newspapers, radio stations, and road signs available employee positions. They have also recently opened up a Facebook page – Yorozu Automotive Tennessee.  

Capital spending at the YAT plant this year will be $7.1 million. This includes $3.3 million for robots and welding equipment for the Nissan Pathfinder, $2.4 million to upgrade controls for transfer presses, $625K for improvements with other presses, $395K to upgrade the paint shops, $375K for a new A/C chiller and a rebuild of their cooling towers.  

YAT offers a very competitive starting wage for new hires and their “top out” rate is high for our area. The YAT fringe benefit program is very competitive and includes medical, vision, and dental at a low cost to employees. There is also short and long term disability, life insurance, company matching 401(k) plan, paid vacation and sick/ personal time, and education assistance.  

YAT has an outstanding on-site medical clinic to serve employees free of charge. This also includes free generic prescription drugs if the employee is on the YAT medical plan.  At Yorozu, the employee “on the floor” is the top priority. All other employees are dedicated to make floor production better, easier, and more productive. Most of YAT management were promoted from within including experience “on the floor.”  

It is the nature of YAT’s business to work on long term vehicle contracts involving multiple years. YAT can already project their state-of-business for an extended period of time.  It is reassuring to know that the plant will be busy for multiple years.  

Yorozu is one of four area Japanese automotive manufacturing plants, all of which are doing well. Yorozu was the first Japanese firm to come to Warren County. It has a sizable manufacturing capability here. 

BRAC congratulates the commitment of YAT to Warren County and the successes gained here. There is every reason to be optimistic with the future. Current and future employees can share in this optimism.