DANIEL TAUB Staff Reporter Scrambling to reverse a steep drop-off in U.S. sales, Torrance-based Nissan North America Inc. is shifting the bulk of auto design work to its La Jolla-based unit, Nissan Design International Inc. Jerry Hirshberg, president of NDI, said that by the year 2000 the design of 80 percent of Nissan’s U.S. vehicles will be generated from that San Diego County operation. The move is part of a broader reorganization of Nissan’s U.S. operations, which includes new U.S. management, a cut in production at its Tennessee factory and a new ad campaign. It’s all directed toward reversing a steep decline in the U.S. sales of Nissan, even as the U.S. sales of its main competitors, Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc. and American Honda Motor Co. Inc., have climbed. All three of those companies are based in the South Bay and are U.S. subsidiaries of Japan-based automakers. Analysts say a major reason for Nissan’s U.S. sales drop of 26.5 percent for the first half of the year is that Tokyo designs are not appealing to American tastes. “You can take an International Business 101A class today and in the first semester learn how foolish it would be for Americans to travel to a foreign country, open a business, but design all the product for their foreign business from America with American designers,” said Eric Noble, an analyst with Santa Ana-based AutoPacific Inc. “It’s no less foolish to do the same thing in reverse from Tokyo, particularly for the largest single automotive market in the world.” Only two Nissan cars now being sold in the U.S. were designed completely at the 56-person La Jolla shop the Altima sedan and the Quest minivan. While the La Jolla facility also had a hand in designing the current Maxima, the vast majority of the Nissan vehicles being sold in the U.S. the Sentra, Pathfinder, Frontier and Infiniti line of luxury cars all were designed in Tokyo. Hirshberg said that by 2000, all three of Nissan’s sedans the Sentra, the Altima and the Maxima will be completely NDI-designed, as will the company’s minivan and its new, yet-unnamed sport utility vehicle. Analysts say the disconnect between the American taste in automobiles and Nissan’s Japanese designs is a significant factor behind Nissan’s sale of only 286,566 vehicles in the U.S. through the end of June down 26.5 percent from the 389,760 vehicles it sold in the like year-earlier period. Meanwhile, Toyota sold 635,266 vehicles in the U.S., up nearly 1 percent from the year-earlier period, and Honda sold 487,805 vehicles in the U.S., up 10.1 percent from the like period a year ago.