April 23, 2020 @ 9:06 by Steven Hugill
A car maker is piloting a project that could lead to the resumption of production at its North East plant.
Nissan says around 50 staff in its powertrain team are returning to work.
Production at the company’s Wearside factory – known for making the firm’s flagship Qashqai model – has been suspended since March 17 in response to the coronavirus outbreak.
But bosses say the powertrain move, which will abide by “new safety protocols…in accordance with public health advice and support (from) employee representatives”, could pave the way for manufacturing to restart.
However, no date has been given for the resumption of production at the factory, which also makes the company’s Juke hatchback and all-electric Leaf.
A spokesperson said: “Like the rest of the automotive industry, Nissan is looking forward to resuming business as soon as circumstances across Europe allow.
“The industry is currently working with very limited visibility on future market conditions; however, some activities are now being planned.
“Nissan has spent recent weeks carrying out extensive risk assessments and benchmarking with other manufacturers around the world, to put in place a comprehensive set of safety measures to protect the health and wellbeing of employees.
“In Sunderland, the new safety protocols will be implemented in a pilot activity involving the powertrain team, which will begin this week.
“Regular reviews will take place throughout each phase of this pilot, taking into account the feedback from the teams involved.
“This will inform the return to work protocols for the rest of the factory in the coming weeks.”
However, while a resumption date for production at Sunderland remains undefined, Nissan has revealed it hopes to restart work at its Spanish plants – which suspended operations on April 13 – from next week.
Bosses say some projects will recommence at factories in Cantabria and Avila on April 27, with manufacturing due to start again in Barcelona, Montcada and Sant Andreu on May 4.
Last week, it was revealed Nissan’s Sunderland plant is helping deliver thousands of protective face visors to frontline NHS workers treating coronavirus patients.
Volunteers have created a processing line at the Wearside factory to sort and pack parts.
Bosses say they expect as many as 100,000 visors to be delivered every week.