LONDON (BBC News): Nissan has confirmed that the new X-Trail originally planned for its Sunderland plant will instead be made in Japan.
In a letter to workers, it says continued Brexit uncertainty is not helping firms to “plan for the future”.
In 2016 the carmaker said it would build the new car in the UK after “assurances” from the government. Unions described the news as “disappointing” and said they were “seriously concerned”. The government said it was “a blow to the sector” but that no jobs would go as a result.
Nissan has made cars at Sunderland since 1986 and employs almost 7,000 people.
Nissan said it had decided to “optimise its investments in Europe” by consolidating X-Trail production in Kyushu, which was the production hub for the model.
The firm’s Europe chairman, Gianluca de Ficchy, said: “Nissan is investing heavily in new technologies and powertrains for the next generation of vehicles in our Sunderland plant.
“To support this, we are taking advantage of our global assets, and with X-Trail already manufactured in Japan, we can reduce our upfront investment costs.”
Mr de Ficchy said the news would be “disappointing” to its UK team and partners, but that the workforce in Sunderland had the company’s “full confidence”.
“While we have taken this decision for business reasons, the continued uncertainty around the UK’s future relationship with the EU is not helping companies like ours to plan for the future,” he added. A number of carmakers, including Jaguar Land Rover, Toyota and Vauxhall, have expressed fears of disruption to their supply chains in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
Business Secretary Greg Clark said: “Nissan’s announcement is a blow to the sector and the region, as this was to be a further significant expansion of the site and the workforce. “The company has confirmed that no jobs will be lost. They have reiterated today their commitment to the UK by continuing to manufacture in Sunderland the current Qashqai, Leaf and Juke models and the new Qashqai model from 2020.”
Unite’s acting national officer for the car sector, Steve Bush, said: “This is very disappointing news for Sunderland and the North East and reflects the serious challenges facing the entire UK auto sector.”
He added that the union remained “seriously concerned” that “the apprenticeships and additional jobs that come with future investment and which this community so desperately needs will be lost”. Sunderland Central MP Julie Elliott said the move was “devastating news for our city and the region”. She added: “The uncertainty around Brexit is always a factor now in any decision that’s made in manufacturing.”
Production of the Qashqai – the best-selling crossover vehicle in Europe – makes up the majority of the current work at Sunderland.
There had been concerns that Nissan – part-owned by France’s Renault – could move production to France in future to avoid any post-Brexit EU tariffs.
But when the X-Trail investment was initially announced, Nissan said hundreds of jobs would be created at the Sunderland plant.
It sparked questions over whether a deal between the carmaker and the government had been struck, although ministers insisted that no “financial compensation” had been offered.