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Nissan to export Leaf components

Nissan, which withdrew from car making in Australia in 1991 and has mostly flown under the radar since that time as a manufacturer of aluminium components, has just landed a massive deal that will protect the jobs and earn more than $150 million over the next five years.

It won a global tender for cast aluminium parts for the company's new worldwide flagship, the battery-powered Leaf. It will earn more than $30 million a year by exporting three cast aluminium parts in the Leaf's inverter box, and is also tendering for a fourth piece.

"We now have a very aggressive and growing business in Australia," says the head of Nissan Australia, Dan Thompson. "We've been able to compete with some very, very aggressive neighbours, whether that's Thailand, China or Mexico."

Nissan Casting in Dandenong won the business, which will add more than $30 million a year to Australia's automotive exports until 2015.

The new deal saved the Nissan factory at Clayton in Melbourne from closure and will provide the foundation for a local development program on aluminium accessories including bull bars for Nissan's four-wheel drives.

Nissan stopped making the Pulsar at Clayton in 1991 - in a giant factory complex that now houses Holden Special Vehicles as one tenant - but its casting plant survives and has now been operating for more than 30 years.

It gets a major update under the new deal, with $13 million for tooling and another $8 million for upgrading of the factory. Nissan also landed a $3.5 million bonus from the Federal government's Green Innovation Fund, which has since been chopped, to help fund the deal.

Thompson admits the Dandenong casting plant was close to closure last year, but a change of management and the aggressive export drive has secured the jobs and kept the factory operating on three shifts, seven days a week. "Manufacturing in Australia has never been tougher," Thompson says.