This week, Nissan’s Sunderland plant has reached a landmark-manufacturing its 10 millionth car over 33 years. The factory has become the first UK automobile plant to hit the monumental figure, meaning that every two minutes since 1986 an average of one fresh vehicle has gone off the North East production line. But while the Japanese company celebrates the accomplishment, in the face of Brexit and the company’s decision to remove X-Trail manufacturing from the UK plant previously this year, the future continues unsure for staff at the plant.
Of all the models produced at the factory, it’s the Qashqai SUV that has been churned out in the highest numbers. Some 3.4million examples of the SUV have been made in Sunderland since 2006 and the model remains the most popular 4X4 among UK buyers. The Micra, Primera and Juke have also surpassed one million units at the facility, with the latter still built at the home of Nissan UK. The car maker claims if all ten million cars were parked nose to tail they would stretch for more than 26,000 miles – which is enough to go all the way around the equator, with a few cars to spare.
Steve Marsh, Nissan Sunderland Plant vice president, said: ‘Building ten million vehicles is a tremendous achievement for everyone associated with the plant. ‘Reaching this huge figure has called on all the ingenuity, commitment and spirit of our highly skilled workforce, many of who hail from the North East of England. ‘Together we are determined to continue to drive up the high quality standards our customers have come to expect over the last three decades.’
In total, there were manufactured nine distinct models, including the electric Leaf, which today continues to roll off assembly lines. However, the upcoming X-Trail, following a high-profile U-turn by the car manufacturer previously this year, is one vehicle that will not be produced at the Sunderland plant. The big family SUV was approved for manufacturing in the UK, but concerns about Brexit led to a change of heart for the business and confirmed in February that the 4×4 would be constructed in Japan instead.
That’s despite claims of promises made by the Government in 2016 to offer up to £80million of support and Brexit-related assurances to help secure a major investment from the car maker, according to reports. The choice to switch production of the X-Trail to Japan was another huge blow to the UK’s car industry, which is already under the cosh caused by a downturn in demand for diesel cars. The decision has caused uncertainty regarding jobs, with 7,000 staff employed at the factory.
Nissan chairman Gianluca de Ficchy said in a letter sent to Sunderland workers that much had changed since the Japanese firm announced plans to build a new Qashqai and X-Trail in the UK in October 2016. ‘Since that time, as you know, the environment for the car industry in Europe has changed dramatically,’ the letter sent in February said. ‘To meet the changing emissions regulations we’ve had to invest much more in new powertrains for our future models like X-Trail. At the same time, the volume forecasts for X-Trail in Europe have reduced.
‘For those reasons the company has decided to optimise our investments and concentrate production in Kyushu, instead of adding another production site. ‘For the European business, this does not change the fact that X-Trail is – and will continue to be – a crucial model for us. ‘Today’s announcement will be interpreted by a lot of people as a decision related to Brexit. ‘We have taken this decision for the business reasons I’ve explained, but clearly the uncertainty around the UK’s future relationship with the EU is not helping companies like ours to plan for the future.’
Nissan looks set to miss his full-year profit objective and receive less than his sister brand, Renault, for the first time in a century. Due to a fall in sales of diesel models, the Japanese vehicle manufacturer has struggled to reignite showroom activity, but has also been hammered by his former president Carlos Ghosn’s arrest. Originally arrested for understating his pay in November, the ex-boss has since been re-arrestedin Japan for suspicions that he caused losses of $5 million (£3.8 million) to Nissan.
The 10 million Nissans built in Sunderland
1. Qashqai (2006 – present): 3,416,472
2. Micra (1992 – 2010): 2,368,704
3. Primera (1990 – 2007): 1,483,059
4. Juke (2010 – present): 1,053,178
5. Almera (2000 – 2006): 642,420
6. Note (2006 – 2016): 676,438
7. LEAF (2010 – present): 141,517
8. Bluebird (1986 – 1990): 187,178
9. Infiniti Q30 (2015 – 2019): 76,166