The North East automotive sector has had a buoyant 18 months following the global economic crash in 2008 which saw new car sales and vehicle production fall off a cliff. Peter McCusker reports.
GLOBAL car giant Nissan has already produced more cars at its North East plant this year than it did in 2009 and it is now on track to match, and possibly surpass, its best year ever. At the start of 2010 the Washington facility employed 4,160 staff and that has risen steadily this year, boosted by the launch of its new model the Juke, and it now employs some 4,900 employees.
They’re busier than ever, too, having produced 348,000 vehicles by the end of October, compared to the 338,000 vehicles it had made in the whole of 2009. By the end of the year it may well surpass the 386,55 it made in its 2008 – its best ever production year.
Nissan will soon start work on the creation of the new electric battery plant in a further boost to the region’s presence in the sector.
Meanwhile, in Northumberland two companies are making headway.
In September, Liberty Electric Cars announced it was on track to create 500 jobs in Cramlington after securing a contract with the Chinese government to produce motors for 10,000 electric buses. With the option of further work on the horizon, the total value of the relationship could eventually rise to £1.5bn.
Its neighbour, MSI Holdings, which operates two companies AVID and Comesys, says demand for its electric vehicle products are set to create hundreds of jobs over the coming years.
And Nissan supplier Hashimoto expects 2010 revenues to be up 25% on last year as sales of the Qashqai and Juke rise. The Boldon-based company, which produces plastic trims and radiator grilles for the Washington plant, has revised its annual sales projections for 2010 from £24.5m at the start of year to £28.5m.
These successes reflect a surprisingly buoyant market for new and used vehicles, which is also benefiting some of the region’s leading car retailers. The North East has a long tradition in this sector that shows no sign of abating despite the recession.
Last month Gateshead-based Vertu Motors, which employs 500 people in the region, secured a further £15m to fund more acquisitions over the next three years.
The fast-growing group now has 79 dealerships with 29 of these being snapped up since June last year and is now the eighth biggest motor retailer in the UK.
Vertu, which mainly trades under the Bristol Street Motors brand, recently beat posted sales of £511m in the six months to the end of August from £401m last year, while its pre-tax profits increased from £2.8m to £4.9m.
Chief executive Robert Forrester reckons that, despite the end of the Government scrappage scheme in March, this trend will continue into the second half results with total sales exceeding £1bn for the year.
He said the industry as a whole could suffer a 40-50% fall in new car sales during the next six months but he believes Vertu’s portfolio of brands meant it was relatively well insulated.