Nissan has announced it is building a new battery ‘Gigafactory’ at its existing site in Sunderland. The state-of-the-art new facility is set to come on stream in 2024 and will mark a key stage in the UK car industry’s transition towards electric vehicles.
The Sunderland plant has almost iconic status in British manufacturing. In 2019, the site celebrated the production of its ten millionth vehicle. The plant builds more cars per worker than any in Europe.
Having warned the government it would leave Britain without a Brexit deal, the Japanese carmaker quickly U-turned in 2020 before the government had made a breakthrough with Brussels. Sunderland was also shielded from a worldwide cost-cutting initiative. It is understood the plant’s outstanding productivity convinced company bosses to stick with the UK, deal or no deal.
Under plans to be announced this week, the site at a former airfield will also build electric vehicles. The Nissan Leaf is already manufactured there.
The investment, supported by £500m in Treasury funding is expected to create thousands of jobs. More than 6,000 people are already employed by Nissan in the North East. £30,000 jobs are dependent on the plant.
According to Lord Grimstone, a City big gun who runs the government’s Office for Investment, Britain is in the market for £8bn of investment over the coming months. Nissan was the leading player in the pack and has now committed. Stellantis, which owns the Vauxhall plant at Ellesmere Port should follow suit with a big electric car commitment.
It also signals the government’s levelling up agenda is not just a campaign slogan. Sunderland famously voted Brexit in spite of Nissan’s dominance in the area and the carmaker’s dependence on access to the EU market. Brexiteers will be encouraged to see the North East succeeding.
The prime minister has set ambitious green targets, banning new diesel and petrol cars from 2030, which is helping to leverage the investment, as is Britain’s trade deal with the EU, which affords tariff-free access for battery exports to the bloc, provided they are made in Britain.
“This is a huge boost for the UK automotive industry, guaranteeing Nissan’s presence in the UK and its supply chain for at least the medium term,” said Professor David Bailey, an expert in the automotive industry at Birmingham University.
Professional services giant KPMG’s head of automotive, Richard Perberdy said: “It is not just about Nissan’s batteries and electric vehicles. This represents a very long-term commitment which will underpin the broader supply chain and give them confidence to invest.
“This technology does not stand still and this is likely to create a hub for research and development around the plant, as companies seek better performance from batteries, new technologies and materials as well as looking into recycling for them. It all adds up to something very big indeed.”
Yesterday, consultancy, TMF published an index of countries where it is easiest to do business. Britain was picked out as one of the simplest places to set up and trade. France came second from bottom.
“The conclusion of Brexit, along with new international trade agreements, brings increased clarity and stability. Familiarity with digital tax processes has increased and the legislative environment stabilised,” TMF noted.