I was fortunate to be in Westminster last week at the Houses of Parliament and was blown away by the building (my first visit) but also by the event that I attended. The event celebrated the success of the automotive industry in the North East of England and was hosted by Washington and Sunderland West MP, Sharon Hodgson, on behalf of our fantastic industry-driven cluster organisation, the North East Automotive Alliance (NEAA).
Whilst networking with the companies attending, I was struck by the excited and optimistic buzz evident in the room about the state of the automotive sector and the tremendous opportunities available in the North East.
Thinking back to June and the Brexit vote, I have to admit I was extremely worried about the potential negative effect on foreign inward investment to the UK. As such, I was absolutely delighted when Nissan announced that it was to produce the new generation Qashqai and X-Trail SUV at its Sunderland plant. Nissan has been manufacturing cars in Sunderland for 30 years now and has invested billions of pounds in what is Europe’s most productive car plant. One in every three cars made in the UK are made in Nissan’s Sunderland factory, with 85% of these being exported.
Out of all the UK’s inward investment wins, Nissan’s investment in Sunderland must be the most transformational. It has attracted a deeply embedded cluster of world class supply chain companies to the North East which, when added to the 7,000 working in Nissan’s factory, together employ over 30,000 high quality manufacturing jobs. The Nissan effect has helped drive improvements to manufacturing/engineering training infrastructure in the North East as well as world class research and development into things such as electric vehicles. These all continue to have a profound effect on the North East.
There are real opportunities now for the North East to attract further Tier 1 and 2 supply chain companies to help produce the components worth billions that Nissan requires for its new models.
The fact that 26% of all electric vehicles produced in Europe are made in Sunderland (the Nissan Leaf) is also cause for celebration and optimism.
Further development of electric vehicles and other eco-friendly forms of propulsion, the evolution of driverless cars and a move to greater individualisation/bespoke fit-out of cars means that it’s a tremendously exciting time for the automotive sector in the North East.
On a final note, Jaguar Land Rover recently announced that they have a ‘vision’ to make Britain a global centre for battery research and development to power electric vehicles. They also hinted at hurdles to achieving this vision as overcoming what it termed as “infrastructure and capacity issues”.
In this regard, the North East has a number of significant advantages over other parts of the UK in terms of available land (including the new International Advanced Manufacturing Park adjacent to Nissan coming on stream within the next two years), fantastic infrastructure, a highly competitive cost base and the quantity and quality of skills to deliver new investment opportunities.
Guy Currey, Director
Invest North East England