January 22, 2021 @ 14:19 by Richard Dawson
The North East automotive sector has received a vote of confidence from bosses at Japanese car maker Nissan who say the future of the Sunderland plant is now secure.
Speaking from Nissan’s Yokohama HQ, chief operating officer Ashwani Gupta said he believed the Brexit deal has given the company’s UK operation a competitive advantage.
The significant change of tone will reassure thousands of people across the North East who either work for Nissan or in its supply chain.
Mr Gupta had previously said the Sunderland plant, which produces more cars than any other in the country, would have been unsustainable in the event of no-deal.
Tariff free trade access to the EU market will enable Nissan to continue exporting the lion’s share of the cars it makes on Wearside to Europe, while also increasing competitiveness in a number of areas.
For example, under the rules of origin, which stipulate what proportion of car parts can be imported and what must be UK/EU made, almost all models built at the Sunderland plant meet the requirements.
Only the long-range electric battery for the Nissan Leaf is imported from abroad and, as such, Mr Gupta confirmed that part will now be made at Sunderland’s EV battery plant, owned by Envision AESC.
Speaking to the BBC, he said: “The Brexit deal is positive for Nissan. Being the largest automaker in the UK we are taking this opportunity to redefine auto-making in the UK.
“It has created a competitive environment for Sunderland, not just inside the UK but outside as well.
“We’ve decided to localise the manufacture of the 62kWh battery in Sunderland so that all our products qualify [under rules of origin].
“We are committed to Sunderland for the long term under the business conditions that have been agreed.”
Nissan’s Washington plant is temporary pausing some production lines from today (January 22) due to the coronavirus pandemic.
But the company believes it could ramp up production to almost double pre-pandemic levels when the market recovers and when demand for electric vehicles takes off.
Nissan has sold more electric vehicles than any other manufacturer in the world apart from Tesla, many of them made in the North East, which is a global centre of excellence for EV production.
Councillor Graeme Miller, leader of Sunderland City Council, said: “This is another vote of confidence in the city’s world-leading automotive sector and for both Nissan and Envision AESC.
“It helps cement the city’s well-established track record in future technologies, which is vital to the city’s economy as well as to the wider economy of the region and UK.
“We know how important electrification is to the automotive and advanced manufacturing sector moving forward and this announcement not only reinforces Sunderland’s reputation in electric vehicle production but also as the UK centre for battery manufacturing.
“It is vital as we grow our green economy, work towards our goals to become carbon neutral as a city, and support achievement of the Government’s net zero targets.
“This is excellent news and a great step as we continue to move forward on this critical agenda.”
Chris McDonald, chief executive of the Materials Processing Institute, has predicted Nissan’s decision could result in the North East becoming an electric vehicle superpower.
He said: “The announcement that additional battery production is to be moved closer to the plant is tremendous news for its 6,000 staff as well as the 70,000 jobs it supports in the supply chain.
“As well as ending years of uncertainty, it also represents a vote of confidence in the region’s research and innovation capabilities and will surely act as a catalyst for other advanced technologies to develop.”