Nissan commits to Sunderland plant after post-Brexit deal
Unite welcomes Nissan COO’s backing of Sunderland plant but warns government must play a role to secure site’s long-term future
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Unite has welcomed news that Japanese car giant Nissan has committed to maintain its operations in Britain after the UK and EU struck an eleventh hour trade deal last month.
Nissan confirmed on Friday (January 22) that it would maintain its production at its Sunderland plant, which employs about 6,000 people and where the Qashqai, Juke and Leaf models are produced.
Nissan chief operating officer Ashwani Gupta praised the Sunderland plant, noting, “Sunderland is one of the top three plants in the world for competitiveness for Nissan.”
“We are committed to Sunderland for the long term under the business conditions that have been agreed,” he added.
The Brexit deal struck on Christmas Eve has avoided tariffs or quotas for the car industry but trade barriers still remain, such as customs checks and form-filling, which will translate into higher costs as a result of delays.
Gupta also noted that all electric vehicle battery production for the Leaf model will now be undertaken at the Sunderland plant. Currently, batteries for the Leaf electric hatchback are manufactured in the US and imported to the UK.
Nissan’s switch to producing batteries in the UK is being driven by the need to avoid tariffs under the new Brexit deal, which mandates that at least 55 per cent of any vehicle’s material value must be sourced from the EU or UK or else penalties will be incurred.
The Financial Times reported that “two people familiar with internal Nissan deliberations” said that the company had begun discussions on the possibility of bringing new models to Sunderland.
Gupta himself told the FT that while it was “too early” to allocate new models, he added that the company “will explore more opportunities” at Sunderland.
Unite hailed Gupta’s vote of confidence in the Sunderland plant and its future, but Unite national officer Steve Bush emphasised that many challenges still lay ahead – and it was imperative that the government commit to supporting the car industry to truly secure the future of the Sunderland plant and other UK car manufacturing sites.
“Mr Gupta’s backing for the Nissan plant in Sunderland is welcome and no less than this incredible, dedicated workforce deserves,” he said.
“Through continued economic and public health uncertainty, they have battled to maintain this plant as one of the most productive in the autos sector and to put it in the best place to transition to the next generation of vehicles,” Bush added.
“This workforce and their community deserve a future and we will be working with Nissan to deliver this because bumpy times lie ahead.”
He noted that Unite was seeking an urgent meeting with the government “to discuss the part that they must play in the full UK-wide electrification needed to secure this plant and others like it in the UK”.
“Delivering on this would not only bring stability to auto manufacturing in the North East but also signal that this government is genuine when it talks about green investment, levelling up and backing UK manufacturing,” he said.
“This country’s leaders have to stop thinking in the short-term and plan now for the changes that are coming at us fast,” Bush continued. “The UK automotive sector is a world-leader, with a skilled workforce determined to continue this well into the future, but it needs a united effort between the industry, the workforce and, crucially, the government to power forward. The sector supports more that 800,000 jobs and keeps many communities thriving. We cannot afford to lose it.”
Bush said that the automotive sector as a whole had been going through a really tough time in recent years, especially in light of issues to do with diesel engines two years ago, whose impact is still being felt, alongside the big transition to electric vehicles.
“The Sunderland plant was the first plant anywhere really to start mass producing electric cars,” he said. “But so much of electric car fleet manufacturing is based outside the UK and indeed within Nissan’s announcement is the important part about bringing batteries for 62 kwh battery LEAF – the bigger battery cars — to the UK.
“But it’s the next generation that really matters – any model has a five to six year lifespan and so while the current models are secure, we’ve got to do more, as a country as a whole and at Nissan, to ensure future models at the Sunderland plant.”
Bush highlighted that the UK is “sadly unique among the auto manufacturing nations” in that “our government sits apart from the sector, happy to reap the rewards in the good times but absent when we need the engagement in delivering for tomorrow
“This has to change because we desperately need high-end manufacturing such as that undertaken at Nissan to provide the jobs and generate the taxes to support our economic recovery,” he said. “And we need the investment in green technology to address the climate crisis and to ensure that cars made here will have a market here.
“This is the time for the government to show that it has a plan for UK automotive manufacturing beyond the next two or three years. That means becoming an active partner in providing the infrastructure, component supply and smooth trade arrangements.
“The decisions taken today by government will determine whether we have an automotive sector to speak of tomorrow. Jobs and livelihoods depend on this, but so too does the UK’s future as a high skill, high reward manufacturing nation.”
By Hajera Blagg