Nissan is pushing ahead with its £400m plan to build its new Qashqai sports utility vehicle at its Sunderland factory, despite the Japanese company repeatedly warning that post-Brexit tariffs would make European manufacturing unsustainable.
The company on Friday unveiled a £52m production press as part of a £400m investment in preparation for the new third-generation Qashqai model, due to roll off the production line in 2021. The specially commissioned 2,000-tonne press has taken 18 months to install.
Nissan committed to building the new Qashqai model in Sunderland in 2016 following government assurances that Brexit would not affect competitiveness. The company has since repeatedly warned that tariffs in Europe would jeopardise its business model as 70% of cars made in Sunderland are exported to mainland Europe.
If the UK fails to agree a trade deal with the EU, the UK could crash out of the trading bloc at the end of 2020, leading to 10% tariffs on exports under World Trade Organization terms and border checks.
“When the first Nissan Qashqai rolled off the line in Sunderland in 2006 it created the crossover segment,” Ashwani Gupta, the company’s chief operating officer, said. “Designed, engineered and made in the UK, and more than 3 million vehicles later it remains the benchmark, just as our team in the UK continues to set the standard for productivity and quality.”
Steve Bush, national officer at the Unite union, said: “The reaffirmation of this already announced investment of £400m in a new production press at the Sunderland plant is a welcome confidence-booster for the 6,000-strong workforce. In challenging economic times, such investment by Nissan is warmly welcomed and a big vote of confidence in the world class, highly skilled workforce that has an excellent record in producing world-class cars.”
The Sunderland site is Britain’s biggest car plant, building almost 350,000 vehicles in 2019, but down almost a third since a high of more than 500,000 cars in 2016.
Nissan builds the Leaf, Qashqai and Juke models at the site, where it directly employs more than 7,000 people. it axed its premium Infiniti and reversed plans build its X-Trail SUV at the plant.
Nissan is grappling with the need to accelerate cost-cutting and rebuild profits, repair its partnership with France’s Renault and handle the fallout from the arrest of its former boss Carlos Ghosn.