About 750 of Nissan North America Inc.’s 1,300 sales and marketing employees have told the company they will not move with the company from California to Tennessee.

But at least Nissan’s mission now is clear, says Vice Chairman Jim Morton Jr.: to re-staff its North American headquarters and move on.

"There are people we would’ve liked to have come with us," says Morton, who has led the effort to move Nissan from the Japanese automotive enclave of Southern California. "But we have now seen who will come and who won’t, and we’ll deal with it."

Among those who have opted out are a number of key people, including Nissan’s longtime vice president of product planning, Jack Collins, and Jed Connelly, who helped drive Nissan’s market share growth in recent years as senior vice president of sales and marketing.

Morton said Nissan already has either hired or offered jobs to about 200 people. Some of the new hires will replace current employees at other Nissan offices who are moving to headquarters this summer.

Nissan has been working overtime to identify job candidates. And Detroit, filled with auto executives nervous about downsizing, has been a targeted talent pool.

But Nissan will now step up its recruitment in various automotive markets around the country, including Atlanta, Louisville, Ky., and almost a dozen other cities. This month, the automaker solicited resumes through a newspaper ad in the Sunday Louisville Courier-Journal, which reaches readers across northern Kentucky. Ford Motor Co. operates two large assembly plants in Louisville, and Toyota Motor Corp. employs 7,500 people about an hour away in Georgetown, Ky.

Toyota’s North American manufacturing and purchasing headquarters is 90 miles away in Erlanger, Ky., and several major suppliers also have operations in the area.

As of last week, Nissan already had received almost 27,000 resumes for openings, even though the final decisions of its employees had not been tallied, and its job Web site only listed about 200 positions.

According to Morton, the number of employees who decided to move was roughly what Nissan’s relocation consultants predicted. Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn predicted at the time that about half would relocate, although he said he hoped the percentage would be higher.

Last week, Nissan’s final head count found 42 percent agreeing to move. Discounting clerical workers and administrative assistants who typically opt out of corporate relocations, the count is 45 percent.

"The more significant number for us is 45 percent," said Morton, a longtime Ghosn confidant whom Ghosn recruited to Nissan in 2000. "Those are the management, product and marketing people."

Nissan’s restaffing occurs in a critical period for the automaker. This year, Nissan’s sales and marketing team will launch a redesigned Quest minivan. The marketers must reassure buyers who may have heard of Quest quality problems in the past two years. Also coming is a redesigned Sentra sedan that will attempt to move a bit upscale.

In November, a redesigned Altima sedan, its largest-volume vehicle, will hit showrooms. The company also is introducing the Versa sedan this summer, a new model smaller than the Sentra.

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