NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Nissan Motor Co. said Tuesday that production of its 2012 NV commercial van will begin Jan. 19 at its expanded plant in Canton, Mississippi, marking its first venture into the U.S. commercial vehicle market.

The NV offering will be aimed at commercial van customers through a network of about 240 Nissan commercial dealers, with sales set to begin in the spring. The NV will compete against Ford Motor Co.'s hot-selling Transit Connect. Ford said 2010 sales of the Transit Connect jumped 41 percent over 2009 figures.

Nissan spent $118 million over two years to expand the Canton plant to build the NV. The expansion, according to the company, included 49,000 more square feet of plant space, overhauls to existing space and a new assembly line to handle the van. The plant also produces the Nissan Altima sedan, Titan pickup and Armada SUV.

The Canton plant, which opened in 2003, employs 3,300 workers. Nissan spokesman Brian Brockman said no additional workers have been hired for NV production.

Tim Coursey, executive director of Mississippi's Madison County Economic Development Authority, said the region has "high hopes" for the new vehicle, including the possibility it will lead to more jobs at the plant.

"The plant had the capacity and they had the niche to move into. It's a nice fit" Coursey said. "If you're going to make more vehicles, eventually you'll have to hire more people."

No matter what Nissan does, Mississippi's auto assembly business is due for expansion — and employment gains this year — thanks to the ramping up of a second auto plant. Toyota Motor Corp.'s plant near Blue Springs, Miss., is expected to open in 2011 with an initial payroll of 1,000, eventually growing to 2,000. Along with that, auto suppliers are expected to add another 1,500 to 2,000 jobs, according to state estimates.

Toyota had built most of $1.8 billion plant when work was suspended in 2008 after the economy slumped. Last August, the company said it would open in 2011, building the Corolla.

Meanwhile, the auto industry in neighboring Louisiana is a story of waiting.

In Shreveport, Louisiana, the General Motors plant is expected to close no later than mid-2012, shutting down the jobs of about 800 workers — down from a one-time high of 3,000. The plant currently assembles the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon pickup trucks. The commercial Hummer also was built in Shreveport until GM discontinued the brand in its 2010 reorganization.

Although the state has been seeking replacement tenants for the plant, state economic development officials said they are staying in contact with GM as the revived company weighs future expansion options.