SUNDERLAND’S Nissan plant is “one of our greatest industrial success stories in modern times”, says the region’s top business minister.
Michael Fallon was at the plant yesterday for the launch of the new Note.
The Government has provided more than £9million in grants to help bring the new model to Sunderland rather than Nissan’s plant in India.
Nissan had helped to spearhead a renaissance in UK auto manufacturing, he said.
“This plant produces more cars a year than the entire Italian car industry,” said Mr Fallon.
“That is a fantastic statistic.”
For Kevin Fitzpatrick, in charge of manufacturing at the Sunderland plant, yesterday was the culmination of a lengthy process.
“We first began talking about it two years ago and we have been working on the car for 18 months.
“We have successfully finished all the pre-production trials and now we are entering mass production.
“It is not on sale yet but we have already got about 14,000 pre-sale orders, so the industry response has been very good.”
The new-look Note has undergone a transformation from the functional look of the original model, as John Martin, Nissan’s senior vice president for manufacturing, purchasing and supply chain management in Europe, pointed out.
“During my time at Nissan, I have never seen such a big change in a model,” he said.
He paid tribute to the workforce whose commitment played a vital role in securing production of a second model to follow the Leaf, launched earlier this year.
“Two new model launches in six months is a real achievement for the plant,” said Mr Martin.
“We have the most productive car plant in Europe and one of the top five in the world.”
As well as vehicle assembly, the new Note has brought work to the Sunderland plant and its supply chain in axle production, cylinder head casting, camshaft machining and engine assembly, creating 2,000 new jobs in the UK automotive industry – including 400 at the factory – and taking the number of British jobs supported by Nissan to more than 35,000.
Among those whose jobs are being safeguarded are Alan Snaith, Nigel Sidney and Ian Flanagan, who between them have clocked up more than 70 years at the plant.
Alan is a supervisor in the door section, while Nigel and Ian are members of the plant’s trouble-shooting quick response team.
Alan has been heavily involved in preparing the plant to build the new car.
“I was on the new model development team, and have only just gone back onto production,” he said.
“That was for 11 months.”
“It’s great news,” said Ian. “It’s not just creating new jobs but it is providing extra job security for the people who work here already.”
Nigel is looking forward to another busy couple of years.
“We’ve launched two new models this year and we’ve got two more in the pipeline, which is great,” he said.