'Real risk' of more UK car plants closing as country lags behind on electric vehicles, says motor industry expert

More UK car plants could close because manufacturers want to build electric cars elsewhere, an industry expert has claimed.

Tuesday, 19th February 2019, 12:32 pm
Updated Tuesday, 19th February 2019, 12:47 pm
A Nissan Leaf on the production line in Sunderland

Jim Holder, editorial director of What Car? magazine, has said the country could be "left behind" in relation to the technology.

The "significant challenges of electrification" was the reason given by Honda for deciding to shut its Swindon factory in 2021, jeopardising 3,500 jobs.

A Nissan Leaf on the production line in Sunderland

The news comes a fortnight after Nissan told workers its next-generation X-Trail would be made in Japan and not Sunderland, as planned, despite the Government's so-called sweetheart deal of up to £80 million to protect the firm from higher post-Brexit trade tariffs.

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Only a handful of manufacturers make electric cars in the UK. Nissan builds the Leaf electric car at its plant in Sunderland, and industry sources say there is potential for an electric car from the manufacturer's premium brand, Infiniti, to be produced there.

Thousands of people from across the North East work at the Nissan plant in Sunderland, and thousands more are employed in its supply chain.

Jaguar Land Rover builds the hybrid Range Rover at its Solihull factory and has plans to make all new models electric or hybrid from 2020.

Toyota builds hybrid versions of the Corolla at its plant in Burnaston, near Derby.

The UK plays a "very small part" in the global production of electric and hybrid cars, according to Mr Holder.

He cited a number of reasons, including lower sales of the vehicles compared with the rest of Europe, the cut in government grants for buyers and the reduction in the value of the pound.

"We're lagging in terms of manufacturing and uptake, particularly compared with China, Japan and certain parts of America," he said.

Asked if more manufacturers could follow Honda's decision to close a UK plant to build electric cars elsewhere, Mr Holder warned: "There is a very real risk of it and that is highlighted by today's announcement.

"There is a very real risk we're being left behind. The quickest way to justify the billions of investment required in electric cars is to build them in the markets where they're buying them."