Thousands of jobs have been protected after car maker Nissan committed to investment in the UK after Brexit in what the Prime Minister hailed as a “great vote of confidence”.
A senior official at the Japanese car giant said the Brexit deal had given their Sunderland plant a competitive advantage.
Chief operating officer Ashwani Gupta said he believes the last-minute agreement will “redefine” the UK’s auto industry.
“Brexit has brought the business continuity in the short term, protects 75,000 jobs across Europe and, most importantly, all of our models which we manufacture in Sunderland,” he told a news briefing.
Speaking from Japan, he said Nissan will continue to invest in the UK, stressing that the company did not stop investing in the run-up to the UK leaving the EU.
The Brexit deal has secured the sustainability of Nissan and improved the competitiveness of the giant Sunderland factory, he added.
“Sunderland is one of the top three plants in the world for competitiveness for Nissan,” he said.
“Brexit gives us the competitive advantage in the UK and outside.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson welcomed the commitment by car manufacturer Nissan to continue investing in the UK.
He tweeted: “This is a great vote of confidence in the UK and fantastic news for the brilliant @Nissan workforce in Sunderland and electric vehicle manufacturing in this country.”
Mr Gupta also said Nissan will move production of the batteries used in its Leaf electric cars to the UK to take advantage of trade rules guaranteeing zero tariffs on EU exports if at least 55% of the car’s value is derived from the UK or the EU.
The batteries are currently imported from Japan, but Mr Gupta told the BBC: “We’ve decided to localise the manufacture of the 62KW battery in Sunderland so that all our products qualify (for tariff-free export to the EU).”
By the end of 2023 all Nissan cars sold in Europe will have an electrified version, he said, adding that it will then be up to customers to decide how quickly they switch from petrol and diesel motors.
Mr Gupta added that Nissan’s message had been “consistent” over the past few years, while Brexit was causing so much uncertainty for business.
“As long as the current business conditions are kept, we are sustainable, not only in Sunderland, but across Europe.”
Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said: “Nissan’s decision represents a genuine belief in Britain and a huge vote of confidence in our economy thanks to the vital certainty that our trade deal with the EU has given the auto sector.
“For the dedicated and highly-skilled workforce in Sunderland, it means the city will be home to Nissan’s latest models for years to come and positions the company to capitalise on the wealth of benefits that will flow from electric vehicle production as part of our green industrial revolution.”
Nissan said one of the two lines in its Sunderland plant will pause production on Friday as a result of European and global shipping routes and ports coming under pressure because of the coronavirus crisis.
This will affect the line which produces Qashqai and Leaf, which will be back up and running next week.
A company statement said: “Production on Line One at the plant has been paused due to supply chain disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. We anticipate that production will resume on Monday next week.”
Steve Bush, the Unite union’s national officer for the automotive sector, said: “Mr Gupta’s backing for the Nissan plant in Sunderland is welcome and no less than this incredible, dedicated workforce deserves.
“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.
“This workforce and their community deserve a future and we will be working with Nissan to deliver this because bumpy times lie ahead.
“That’s why Unite is 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.
“This country’s leaders have to stop thinking in the short-term and plan now for the changes that are coming at us fast.”
The leader of Sunderland City Council said it is a vote of confidence for Wearside, calling it “excellent news”.
Graeme Miller said: “It helps cement the city’s well-established track record in future technologies, which is vital to the city’s economy as well as to the wider economy of the region and UK.
“We know how important electrification is to the automotive and advanced manufacturing sector moving forward and this announcement not only reinforces Sunderland’s reputation in electric vehicle production but also as the UK centre for battery manufacturing.”