AUTOMOTIVE manufacturing in Sunderland is thriving. Since Nissan chose the city for its European base over 25 years ago, Sunderland has developed world-class facilities, broken production records and attracted a strong and growing supply chain of component manufacturers. More than 10,000 people now work in the sector.
This year has been an extraordinary one for Sunderland’s automotive sector. Nissan announced earlier this year that both its Invitation model and its new hatchback will be produced at its Sunderland plant. Once production of the two models begins, it is estimated the Sunderland workforce will stand at a record 6,225 by 2014. It will also bring the annual output to more than 550,000 vehicles.
UK manufacturing bases
World-leading automotive components companies have also made the decision to locate at Sunderland or expand their bases this year.
Lear Corporation led the series of announcements, when it decided to create its first UK foam manufacturing facility for vehicle seats at Sunderland. More than 300 new job opportunities are to be created in the city as a result. US-based Lear Corporation is one of the world’s leading automotive suppliers. It is initially supplying seating foam to support vehicle production at Nissan’s Sunderland plant.
Gideon Jewel, of Lear, said: “We’re impressed with the superb support we’ve had from Sunderland City Council’s business investment team, who have worked tirelessly to help bring about the major new investment and new jobs to the city.”
The good news continued with France-based Financière SNOP Dunois (FSD) Group announcing that it was setting up its UK manufacturing base in Sunderland, investing millions of pounds in converting the former TRW Valves facility at Washington into a base for its automotive body parts production. More than 130 new job opportunities are to be created within two years.
SNOP UK supplies body parts for Nissan. The 14,000 square metres factory will hold 30 robotic cells, stamping and assembly presses to create over 90 automotive body parts.
Only weeks later, Vantec Europe announced that it intends to invest £22.5m in a 421,000 sq ft building at Turbine Business Park, Sunderland, contributing towards 230 jobs by 2015. This will be the first development in the UK to get under way from the latest round of Enterprise Zones.
Vantec’s £22.5m investment is the largest investment ever made by the company during its 20 years in the North East, and is further commitment by Vantec Corporation, Japan, of supporting the expansion of global automotive logistics.
Vantec Europe provides warehousing and logistics to Nissan Sunderland, Komatsu UK, Birtley and Cummins Engines, Darlington. The new building will complement Vantec’s existing 148,000 sq ft warehouse at Cherry Blossom Way in Sunderland.
Unipres, which supplies parts to both Nissan and Honda, announced in March that £5m from the Regional Growth Fund will develop the firm’s Washington plant and create and protect 316 jobs – with a further 50 in the supply chain.
In April, Calsonic Kansei, a supplier to Nissan, joined the chorus of good news by announcing that it is investing £15.3m at its Sunderland site, creating more than 140 new jobs.
The strengths of Sunderland for the automotive sector rest not only in the strength of Nissan, but also in the city’s highly skilled, willing and ambitious workforce. Nissan is one of the best plants in Europe for labour productivity.
The region’s colleges and universities offer a comprehensive, and often leading-edge, range of automotive skills training courses, including the UK’s first automotive design degree at the University of Sunderland, first dedicated low carbon training centre and the Institute for Automotive Advanced Practice.
Designated the UK’s first Low Carbon Economic Area in 2009, the North East area leads the country in ultra-low carbon vehicle manufacture with both Nissan and Smith Electric Vehicles pioneering research and production. Nissan is investing £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 pace of positive news this year is proof that Sunderland City Council’s active, enabling approach works well for automotive companies in Sunderland.
As Trevor Mann, Nissan’s senior vice president for global supply chain management and operating committee – Africa, Middle East and India, said: “Sunderland City Council has a good international feel for how to work with global companies.”
Councillor Paul Watson, leader of Sunderland City Council said: “This is turning out to be an outstanding year for investment by automotive companies in Sunderland.
“The strong vote of confidence in our city as the UK’s automotive hub from world-leading automotive manufacturers is great news for the region and for the UK. It recognises our exceptional package of location, infrastructure, connectivity and experienced, skilled people.”
Sunderland City Council has a good international feel for how to work with global companies