Nissan ‘vote of confidence’ offers timely boost to UK motor industry

JAPANESE car giant Nissan yesterday unveiled plans to build a new model in Sunderland, creating 2,000 jobs at the plant and across the supply chain.

The vehicle will be built at the plant from mid-2013 in a £125 million project supported by a £9.3m grant from the government, and will compete with the Ford Fiesta and VW Polo.

Business Secretary Vince Cable hailed the news as a “clear vote of confidence” in Britain’s manufacturing industry, while a union leader said the announcement was a “ray of sunshine”.

It is expected that the new model, with a current concept name of Invitation, will have an initial production run of 100,000 a year, helping to cement Sunderland as the largest car plant in the UK – a position it has held for the past 14 years.

In 2011, the plant’s 25th anniversary year, Sunderland set a new production record with more than 480,000 models rolling off the lines.

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Trevor Mann, Nissan’s senior vice-president for manufacturing in Europe, said: “This plant has a 20-year heritage in producing successful compact cars stretching back to the first Micra rolling off the line in 1992. The additional volume will maintain Sunderland as the country’s largest car plant and we expect and look forward to a very busy future.”

Nissan’s announcement came as new car sales slowed last month, according to figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT). There were 61,868 new registrations across the UK in February – a drop of 2.5 per cent on February 2011. However, Scotland saw 4,426 cars registered in February, just 0.43 per cent down on last year’s 4,445.

“The February new car market was broadly in line with industry expectations, with a welcome increase in private retail activity,” said SMMT chief executive Paul Everitt.

About 350,000 “12-plates” are expected to be registered, about 2 per cent below the March 2011 figure. Douglas Robertson, chief executive of the SMTA, said: “It is difficult to draw any great conclusions from these figures other than that there is a sight of some stability now appearing in the new car market.

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“The new plated ‘12’ registrations in March will tell us more about whether or not that stability is going to remain or whether there is a recovery on its way.

“We are optimistic, but remain of the opinion that 2012 will be another tough year for the retail motor industry.

“Government really does need to use this month’s Budget to strengthen consumer confidence.”

Everitt said: “The March market will provide a much better indicator of industry health than the relatively low volumes traditionally seen in February.”

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Private sales were up 0.6 per cent last month and are up 2.1 per cent for the year so far.

Diesel car registrations rose by 4.9 per cent in February 2012, which pushed their market share to 53.9 per cent, compared with 50.1 per cent a year ago.

The SMMT reckons total sales this year will reach 1.92 million compared with 1.94 million in 2011.

TOP FIVE MODELS

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February 2012 new car sales

ScotlandCars sold

1 Ford Fiesta 253

2 Vauxhall Corsa 252

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3 Ford Focus 198

4 BMW 3 Series 184

5 Mazda 2 154

UK

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1 Ford Focus 3,713

2 Ford Fiesta 2,899

3 Volkswagen Golf 2,857

4 Vauxhall Corsa 2,855

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5 Vauxhall Astra 1,589

Source: SMMT