Qashqai decision shows Nissan bosses have ‘full confidence’ in Sunderland plant

Colin Lawther celebrates today's news.
Colin Lawther celebrates today's news.
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“Really, it is a trust thing.”

Nissan’s decision to build two new models at its Sunderland plant is a result of the firm’s faith in both its Wearside workforce and the support the factory receives from local and national government in the UK, says one of the company’s top bosses.

Colin Lawther with the current Qashqai and X-Trail SUV models

Colin Lawther with the current Qashqai and X-Trail SUV models

Colin Lawther, Nissan’s European senior vice president for manufacturing, purchasing, and supply chain management, said the decision on where the plant would build a third generation Qashqai had faced a number of ‘hurdles’ in the wake of the vote to leave the EU: “We had some points we needed to clarify in terms of not making decisions in the dark - we need to make decisions in the light. We need to know what the business circumstances are.

“We are beholden to our shareholders to make sure we make the right decision.”

The firm had initially believed it would be the end of November before the position was sufficiently clear, but its Executive Committee had decided ‘we have confidence in Sunderland, we have confidence in the competitive environment in the UK, we should decide now.’

It was impossible to know exactly what the outcome of the Brexit negotiations would be, but Nissan’s history on Wearside, along with the positive messages from Whitehall, had earned its factory the benefit of the doubt: “Really, it is a trust thing,” said Mr Lawther.

I would expect we will produce more cars in the future than we ever have in the past. It opens up an opportunity for further employment in the plant itself.

Colin Lawther

Nissan had been in Sunderland for 30 years and had built up a superb relationship with both local councils and the UK Government, which had helped it weather previous storms.

“That 30-year history give the Executive Committee the confidence to look at Sunderland and say ‘we always deliver, we always keep our promises.’

“They have full confidence in the plant.”

Nissan boss Carlos Ghosn went to Downing Street earlier this month for crunch talks with Prime Minister Theresa May and said on Thursday the manufacturer could make the production decision due to “support and assurances” from the Government.

Business Secretary Greg Clark has refused to be drawn on whether the Government has promised to compensate Nissan if faces additional tariffs as a result of the decision to leave the EU.

He said conversations with the company had centred on reassuring it of the Government’s determination to get “the best possible deal” with the EU.

“The UK Government have been very supportive of us,” said Mr Lawther.

“We have had lots of meetings with Greg Clark, we have had lots of meetings with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, we have had lots of meetings with the Chancellor Philip Hammond. All this culminated in our CEO meeting with the Prime Minister recently.”

The Chancellor had even gone to Japan to meet the Executive Committee: “No matter what happens in the next two years, we believe the Government will allow us to operate in a competitive environment,” said Mr Lawther.

As well as making the new Qashqai, the Sunderland plant will also start producing the X-Trail 4x4 for the first time.

“This is a massive step forward,” said Mr Lawther.

“It is massive for the 7,000 people who work here. It is a real pat on the back.”

The announcement was confirmation the plant staff were ‘highly valued’ and really respected’ by the firm’s senior management.

“While we fully believe we are the best plant in Europe, we know from our benchmarking that we are one of the best plants in the world.”

The announcement would not only secure existing jobs but hopefully create more down the line.

“Clearly, without Qashqai, jobs would have been under threat,” he said.

“More importantly, not only have we secured what we have, we have also secured X-Trail production, relocating from Japan.

“Hopefully we should be producing more cars and that means an opportunity to create more jobs in the future.

“I would expect we will produce more cars in the future than we ever have in the past. It opens up an opportunity for further employment in the plant itself.”

The announcement would also mean security for thousands of workers in the plant’s supply chain and the firm was pushing for more suppliers to move to the UK post-Brexit, so parts could be bought in sterling.

“We want more suppliers locating in the UK to supply the plant. Certainly I am pushing that at the moment,” said Mr Lawther.