From Mississippi Development Guide 2023

Building on a Breakthrough

Twenty years later, Nissan’s success is the gift that keeps giving.

Automotive Manufacturing
Mississippi’s automotive industry began with the Japanese automaker.
Photo courtesy of Nissan

by Gary Daughters

s global automakers accelerate investments into the worldwide transition to electric vehicles, Nissan North America confirmed to Site Selection magazine that the transformation of its plant in Canton, Mississippi, is on target. 

“Our plan,” the company said in a statement delivered in late May, “is to begin production of the new models in 2025.”

Nissan’s plan, unveiled in early 2022, signals not just Mississippi’s entry into the world of EVs, but a vote of confidence in the assembly facility the Japanese automaker established in 2003 as just its second such plant in the United States. The company’s original investment of $1.43 billion has since ballooned to some $4 billion.

“Nissan,” said COO Ashwani Gupta, announcing the new half-billion-dollar project, “is making a strong investment in Canton’s future, bringing the latest technology, training and process to create a truly best-in-class EV manufacturing team.”


Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves with officials of Nissan North America.

Photo courtesy of Nissan

Nissan believes its Canton Vehicle Assembly Plant in Madison County will become a center for EV production in the United States. The plant is to support the production of two all-new, all-electric vehicles that are yet to be named. They are part of Nissan Ambition 2030, a company-wide plan that envisions 23 electrified models for the Nissan and INFINITI brands globally, including 15 all-electric vehicles by 2030. 

The Canton plant has built nearly 5 million vehicles since it opened in 2003 and now employs some 5,000 workers. It currently builds Nissan’s Altima, Frontier, TITAN and TITAN XD. Nissan says the transition to EV will support the retraining and upskilling of nearly 2,000 jobs.

“The $500 million plant investment for Nissan Canton,” the company tells Site Selection, “pays for facility upgrades, retooling, significant automation improvements and employee training.”

“Nissan is making a strong investment in Canton’s future, bringing the latest technology, training and process to create a truly best-in-class EV manufacturing team.”

— Ashwani Gupta, COO, Nissan

Through its Canton facility, Nissan became the lodestar around which Mississippi’s automotive industry exploded. Since the opening of Nissan Canton, industry-leading companies including Toyota and PACCAR are among some 200 auto-related employers that have established operations in the state. In Madison County alone, suppliers from countries including Japan, Germany, France and Italy have sprung up around Nissan Canton. Continental, Cooper and Yokohama all make tires in the state. 

The industry now employs more than 15,000 Mississippians. 

Truck Maker Poised for Another Expansion

PACCAR, which produces light, medium and heavy-duty trucks under the Kenworth, Peterbilt and DAF nameplates, is set to expand its facility in Columbus, says Joe Max Higgins, CEO of Golden Triangle Development LINK, the economic development organization for Lowndes, Clay and Oktibbeha counties. 

“We have an incentive package in front of them right now for a $200 million expansion,” Higgins disclosed to Site Selection in late May. He has high confidence the project will happen. 

PACCAR launched operations in Columbus in 2010. The Bellevue, Washington–based company serves as yet another example of how major automotive businesses tend to expand in Mississippi once they establish a foothold.

“They came in,” says Higgins, “and they were going to create 500 jobs with a $400 million investment. Right now,” he says, “they are right at a billion dollars invested and they’re employing 900 people. And that’s before the new expansion.”

PACCAR has forged close ties with colleges in the Columbus area including Mississippi State University in nearby Starkville, Mississippi University for Women and East Mississippi Community College, which operates the cutting-edge Communiversity training center that supports the region’s manufacturers. 

“PACCAR is very proud of the Columbus, Mississippi, engine factory’s achievements,” says PACCAR CEO Preston Feight. “Our excellent employees and the plant’s advanced manufacturing capabilities have created a great environment for building the industry’s best engines.”

‘Essential’ to the Industry 

Toyota has produced more than 1.5 million Corollas at its plant in Blue Springs, just northwest of Tupelo. The legendary Corolla was the world’s top-selling model in 2022 with more than 1.12 million sales. Having launched operations in 2011, the Blue Springs plant has absorbed production of the Corolla sedan from several other locations in North America, with Toyota’s total investment in Mississippi now topping a billion dollars. A $170 million expansion in 2018 created some 400 jobs, bringing employment at the plant to 2,000.

“The reasons why Nissan and other automotive leaders — Toyota, Yokohama, Continental, PACCAR—continually look to Mississippi for expansions and new locations are crystal clear,” reported Fast Company in March of 2023. “Mississippi prides itself on having a hospitable business climate, including its ‘no red tape’ way of doing business, customized workforce training programs, and easy, efficient access to domestic and international markets.

“For two decades,” the magazine said, “Mississippi has been essential to the world’s automotive industry, and with Nissan’s recent $500 million investment to partially convert its Canton plant to begin production of electric vehicles, the state will continue playing a major role in automotive manufacturing as the industry revs up to meet consumer demand for EVs.” 

Gary Daughters
Senior Editor

Gary Daughters

Gary Daughters is a Peabody Award winning journalist who began with Site Selection in 2016. Gary has worked as a writer and producer for CNN covering US politics and international affairs. His work has included lengthy stints in Washington, DC and western Europe. Gary is a 1981 graduate of the University of Georgia, where he majored in Journalism and Mass Communications. He lives in Atlanta with his teenage daughter, and in his spare time plays guitar, teaches golf and mentors young people.


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