AUDIO: Nissan boss' message to workers

"We will survive."

That was the message from Nissan boss Trevor Mann after the news 1,200 hundreds jobs will be cut at the firm's Washington plant.

Today he reaffirmed his commitment to Wearside after fears that the company would pull out of the North East.

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Nissan's senior vice-president for manufacturing in Europe told the Echo: "This is probably one of the hardest decisions any manger or management team will ever have to make.

"But it has not been taken lightly and we are doing everything we can to support the workers affected by this.

"Our plans are to emerge from this as a strong survivor and continue to build on our investment in the region.

"We will be very busy in 2009 preparing for the launch of our new model in 2010 and we are fully committed to that."

He added: "The market is down 20 to 25 per cent and most people are predicting that 2009 is going to be a difficult year.

"Unfortunately, we need to make sure that the company is the right size for that market. That is why we have taken this step.

"But we have the most efficient work force in Europe and we're confident that we will be in a strong position to survive and we're looking forward to 2010 when we release the new model."

He added that Nissan would not be asking the Government for a cash bailout, but instead the company was "right-sizing our operations to the market demand".

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Mr Mann's decision to cut jobs was backed by one of the country's leading experts on the automotive industry.

Prof Garel Rhys is the recently retired director of the Centre for Automotive Industry Research at Cardiff Business School.

He said today that putting off the inevitable would only have meant more pain further down the line.

He said: "The car industry is in a depression – it's not a recession.

"It shows the efficiency of the Japanese manufacturers in taking this action quickly and early. Certainly this should stop them going as far into the red as probably they would have done if they had not taken action."

The Japanese giant has had its fair share of problems in the past, something Prof Rhys believes will stand it in good stead this time.

"Nissan knows what it is to take decisive action and really knows what happens when things go wrong," he said.

"They realised that putting people off work for a couple of weeks, or a month, then sending them off to conferences or for training , asking them to go on holiday, was not going to be enough."

It was too early, though, to say whether yesterday's cuts would be the last.

Prof Rhys said: "Things are going to get worse before they get better. It will be about three years before we see the car market start to make any significant improvement.

"It is really the car market in Europe that is the problem. More than 80 per cent of the cars produced at Nissan are exported and that market is turning down just like ours."

Nissan saw UK orders fall by almost 30 per cent last month. The firm sold 10,519 Qashqais, down 13 per cent on December 2007, and 4,531 Micras, a decline of 24.2 per cent.

But Note was the biggest loser. Nissan sold just 3,100 of the family hatchback in the UK last month, a drop of 59.1 per cent on last December.

"Some countries are better than us, others are worse," said Prof Rhys.

"The Spanish market is down by half. That is an incredible reduction.

"This is going to continue and the car manufacturers have got to take pre-emptive action. Nissan performed better than almost every other car manufacturer last year, but even they have had to take this action."

He was scathing of claims electric cars could be the future for Nissan.

"What we are much more likely to see is hybrid cars – but even that is nonsense," he said.

"The reduction in car demand is not due to the fact that Nissan or anybody else is making the wrong car, but that those customers who want to buy a car are unable to do so.

"The companies are perfectly viable – Nissan especially so. It has got nothing to do with the quality of the product – it has got everything to do with the money in the economy."