Nissan Sunderland plant this week resumed vehicle production after almost three months, with a new Juke the first car off the line on Monday evening.
The vehicle factory in the North East – the biggest in the country with more than 7,000 staff – is one of the last major car manufacturing sites to restart outputs following the coronavirus lockdown.
The resumption of production comes as the factory’s future remains up in the air, with Nissan bosses refusing to guarantee its future unless a trade-free Brexit agreement can be arranged between Britain and Europe.
Back to business: This is the first new Nissan to come off the Sunderland production line on Monday since the plant was closed on 17 March
Hundreds of hours of preparation has been carried out to ensure the safe return of employees on Monday 8 June, having enforced a shutdown of the UK’s biggest single car-making facility on 17 March due to the industry disruption caused by the pandemic.
Nissan says that ‘every operation across the plant has been rigorously risk assessed to make sure it’s safe’, with more than 5,000 processes reviewed to ensure safety at all times for staff on site.
Having restarted outputs, the assembly line for the new Juke produced the first model as demand is high for the compact SUV – priced from £17,395 – that only went on sale earlier this year.
Alan Johnson, Nissan vice president for manufacturing in the UK said: ‘It’s great to see cars rolling off the line at the plant again, including the new Nissan Juke.
‘It’s a testament to the skill and dedication of the team here that we have been able to get back up and running again, with a full set of safety measures in place.’
Improved safety measures include new separation between operators, such as screens, barriers and dividers, as well as one way systems across the site.
Rest areas have also been redesigned and break times rescheduled to support social distancing and remove common touchpoints.
Staff will be provided with PPE, with the factory remaining partly operational during the crisis to produce face masks for the NHS and other front-line workers.
Nissan says that hundreds of hours have gone into ensuring the well-being of employees at the car plant following the pandemic and that ‘every operation across the plant has been rigorously risk assessed to make sure it’s safe’
The Nissan factory in the North East is the biggest single car production site in the UK, though faces an uncertain future if a Brexit trade agreement can’t be struck with Europe, bosses said
The recommencement of production comes just a week after Nissan bosses warned that the Sunderland plant will be ‘unsustainable’ if the UK fails to strike a Brexit trade deal with Europe – days after saying it would survive a global restructuring.
Thousands of workers in the North East thought their jobs were secure at the end of May, after the car giant announced the factory would survive a string of series of cost-cutting measures that close the Japanese firm’s Barcelona facility.
A Nissan spokesman said at the time that ‘Sunderland [remained] an important part of our plans for the European business.’
But in an interview with the BBC, Nissan’s global chief operating officer Ashwani Gupta warned the company would not be able to stand by its commitment to the Sunderland plant if the UK left the European Union without a trade deal that enabled tariff-free EU access.
Mr Gupta said: ‘You know we are the number one carmaker in the UK and we want to continue. We are committed.
‘Having said that, if we are not getting the current tariffs, it’s not our intention but the business will not be sustainable.
‘That’s what everybody has to understand.’
The first new model off the Sunderland assembly line on Monday 8 June was a new-for-2020 Nissan Juke, which costs from £17,395
housands of workers in the North East thought there jobs were secure at the end of May, after the car giant announced the factory would survive a string of series of cost-cutting measures that close the Japanese firm’s Barcelona facility. Pictured: Nissan’s Sunderland factory
Last month, the Department for International Trade announced its post-Brexit tariff regime, which will see cars built in EU countries subject to the same 10 per cent levy as those arriving from other nations.
This would make cars imported to the UK £1,500 more expensive on average, but also increase costs for UK manufacturers exporting vehicles to Europe.
On Tuesday, The UK and Japan are set to begin talks aimed at reaching agreement on a post-Brexit trade deal.
Without a new deal by 1 January 2021, the two countries will default to World Trade Organization trading terms.
In a joint statement from the UK trade body, Society of Motor Manufacturers, and Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association, the two parties said: ‘SMMT and JAMA welcome the start of these historic free-trade agreement negotiations between the British and Japanese governments.
‘Our two automotive industries have had a deep and mutually beneficial trade, technology and investment relationship for nearly forty years, thanks to continuous support from both governments.
‘In order to further enhance this long-term partnership, SMMT and JAMA believe that the conclusion of a new Japan-UK FTA based on the terms of the Japan-EU EPA – and its immediate implementation after the end of the transition period – would greatly benefit economic prosperity both in the UK and Japan.’
Last month, the UK also launched formal talks with the US.
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