Nissan plan ‘confidence vote’ in UK

PLANS by Japanese car giant Nissan to build a new hatchback at its UK plant, creating more than 1,000 jobs at the site and in component companies, is a “big vote” of confidence in the UK’s car industry, the company said today.

The new medium-sized model will be built in Sunderland in 2014, bringing an additional 225 jobs to the factory and 900 to component companies supplying Nissan.

The move follows an announcement last month that the North East plant will also produce a compact car based on the so-called Invitation concept model from next year.

Sign up to our Business newsletter

Sign up to our Business newsletter

Speaking to BBC’s Breakfast programme, Kevin Fitzpatrick, Nissan’s vice-president for manufacturing in the UK, said: “It’s over 1,000 jobs so it is significant for the region.

“We’ve just announced the fourth new model to be launched between now and 2014. This will put the plant on a 24-hour running so it does secure a lot of jobs. It’s a big vote from the parent company.

“It’s too early for the new car to be named or to give any technical details. But it will be a C-segment hatchback so it will be in direct competition with the Ford Focus and Vauxhall Astra.

“It’s a big vote for the car industry. We’re not the only one to have a lot of positive announcements lately.

“The car industry in the UK is pretty buoyant at the moment, particularly the companies which have strong products and strong export markets.”

Nissan’s two new models will result in more than 3,000 jobs being created in the UK automotive sector within the next two years - 625 at Nissan and the remainder across the supply base.

Once recruitment for both models is complete, the Sunderland plant’s workforce will stand at a record 6,225, supporting annual production of more than half a million models.

Nissan said the new hatchback, which will be named closer to its sales launch, marks the car-maker’s return to the mainstream medium segment in Europe and will play a major role in the company’s continued expansion.

The announcement was made by Prime Minister David Cameron and Nissan chief operating officer Toshiyuki Shiga, during a visit to Nissan’s headquarters in Yokohama, Japan.

Around 80,000 of the new hatchback model will be built annually, triggering the need for the Sunderland plant to launch an additional shift.

This will see both of the factory’s production lines operating around the clock for the first time in the plant’s 26-year history, a move which will take manufacturing capacity beyond 550,000 units.

The announcement also consolidates Sunderland’s position as the UK’s largest car manufacturer, a title it has held since 1998.

In 2010 Sunderland became the first UK car plant to produce more than 400,000 models in a single year when 423,000 Qashqais, Notes and Jukes rolled off the line.

The record was beaten last year when 480,000 cars were produced, and Nissan said the plant was preparing to pass the half-million mark for the first time.

Nissan is investing an additional £127 million in its Sunderland operation, supported by an offer of £8.2 million from the Government’s Regional Growth Fund.

Mr Shiga said: “In Europe, Nissan has achieved record growth in recent years by providing innovative, customer-focused models like Qashqai and Juke that are designed, developed and produced within the region.

“Nissan already produces more vehicles in Europe than any other Asian manufacturer and the model announced today will bring world-class quality and leading technology to our customers at the heart of the European C-segment.

“I would also like to thank the UK Government for its strong and sustained support which allows us to continue making significant, long-term investment in our Sunderland operation.”

Mr Cameron said: “I’ve already seen first-hand the tremendous work at the Nissan Sunderland plant and it’s great to be visiting the company’s headquarters in Yokohama today.

“Nissan’s investment in the UK is a huge vote of confidence in the skills and flexibility of the UK workforce. We want to attract more investment like this and that’s why we’re encouraging foreign companies with incentives like the Regional Growth Fund.”

Nissan built the Sunderland plant in 1984 and production began in 1986, with total investment set to reach £3.5 billion.

More than 6.5 million cars have been built at the factory, with 80% of production exported to 97 world markets.

Paul Everitt, chief executive of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, said: “Nissan’s investment in Sunderland is great news for the industry and the broader economy. Nissan’s commitment to the UK demonstrates the growing strength and global competitiveness of our sector and, with new jobs being created at the plant and in the supply chain, it shows the broader economic impact of today’s news.

“Manufacturing is at the heart of the recovery and, with long-term investments being made throughout the automotive sector, it will play an increasingly important role in the UK economy.”