Sunderland lies at the heart of Europe’s foremost car manufacturing region. As home to the UK’s largest car plant – Nissan – and its thriving supply chain, more than 30,000 people now work in the sector in the North East region, with one in every three cars manufactured in the UK built in Sunderland.
Since Nissan began production in the city just over 30 years ago it has not only driven a new business sector in the North East supported by a growing supply chain, but also revolutionised car manufacturing across Europe, contributing to the resurgence of the UK automotive manufacturing industry.
Nissan has invested £3.85 bn in the plant since 1986, and in the last six years there have been 46 separate investments in Sunderland by Nissan totalling £1.6bn. Its faith in Sunderland has been rewarded with repeated productivity records – the Sunderland plant remains the most productive in Europe. In 1986 there were 430 employees at the Sunderland plant producing 5,000 cars a year, today three decades on and that figure has grown considerably to 7,000 staff producing more than 500,000 cars per year.
Thriving supply chain
Automotive supply chain companies including Lear Corporation, Unipres, ZF TRW, Vantec Europe and Calsonic Kansei have all chosen to locate bases at Sunderland, and have thrived, extending their plants and creating many hundreds of new jobs over the last five years. The cumulative effect of this activity boosts the economy of the North East of England region and strengthens the leading position of Sunderland’s automotive sector internationally. Several of these companies now supply other UK and EU car plants with parts.
The reasons for the robust strength of the automotive sector in Sunderland are many and varied, but at the top are a highly skilled, willing and stable workforce and an excellent infrastructure.
Qashqai and X-Trail replacements
In October 2016, the news that not only would the replacement model for the popular Qashqai be built in Sunderland, but also the X-Trail SUV, gave a terrific vote of confidence in the plant and the city. The announcement by Nissan’s CEO Carlos Ghosn secures production at the Sunderland plant going forward and boosts the requirements of new supply contracts, which in turn increases the likelihood of more supplier companies being attracted to the area. The announcement came after months of concern following the outcome of the European Union referendum.
International Advanced Manufacturing Park
Sunderland offers a range of excellent development sites for automotive supply companies, all close to main trunk roads, the Port of Sunderland and Port of Tyne and with easy access to international airports. The International Advanced Manufacturing Park (IAMP), a huge new ‘game changer’ of a scheme is set to bring more than 5,200 jobs and more than £300 million of private sector investment to the North East. It is a 100-hectare site just north of Nissan, predicted to be fully occupied by 2027. The joint venture between Sunderland City Council and South Tyneside Council will offer a world-class environment for high-tech industries and advanced manufacturing businesses.
Proposals for the huge new business park include a state-of-the-art centre of excellence for advanced manufacturing and 260,000 square metres of development space on the 100-hectare site. Councillor Paul Watson, Leader of Sunderland City Council, said: “The IAMP is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to transform not only the Sunderland and South Tyneside economies, but the economy of the North East region, bringing with it a wealth of possibilities for our communities.
“With the industries and investment the IAMP will attract, it will be a game-changer for our current and future workforce.”
The North East now accounts for 26% of all electric vehicle production in Europe, with a growing reputation for research and development investment in new and emerging technologies. Smith Electric Vehicles, a global leader in all-electric commercial vehicles, Nissan, SEVCON and AVID Vehicles lead research and production in ultra-low carbon vehicle manufacture, alongside companies such as Caterpillar, Komatsu and Cummins.
Nissan has invested £420m into the manufacturing of its 100% electric Nissan LEAF at its Sunderland plant, along with the company’s first lithium-ion battery plant outside Japan. The launch of the LEAF in 2013 came three years after Nissan confirmed that the Sunderland plant had won the race to build the revolutionary car for the European market. Together, the battery plant and LEAF production are supporting jobs for thousands of people in the UK car industry.
Councillor Watson said: “We have the UK’s largest car factory and the strongest automotive component supply chain all within our city. Sunderland’s central location in the UK, excellent infrastructure, UK and Europe leading connectivity all contribute to producing the tangible results we’re seeing now. The city’s long-term plan for targeted growth underpins its continued success in attracting automotive companies from countries worldwide.”