The company says it is well positioned to capitalise on the Brexit deal and is set to create more jobs on Wearside.
Nissan has hailed the Brexit deal, saying the agreement will give it a “competitive advantage” as it committed to produce new electric vehicle batteries at its Sunderland plant.
Chief operating officer Ashwani Gupta said the deal gives Nissan the chance to “redefine the industry” and described new customs procedures resulting from Brexit as “peanuts”.
The comments were seized on by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who said the commitment to Sunderland was “a great vote of confidence in the UK and fantastic news for the brilliant Nissan workforce in Sunderland and electric vehicle manufacturing in this country”.
Nissan was one of the most vocal business opponents of a no-deal Brexit, saying the imposition of tariffs would threaten the viability of its UK manufacturing base.
But in a marked change of tone, Mr Gupta said that – following agreement of a tariff-free deal – Nissan would now be in a position to capitalise.
He said the company would begin making the batteries for its long-range electric Leaf model in Sunderland later this year, a move that would likely create jobs on Wearside.
The move is partly defensive, avoiding tariffs that would apply to European exports under complex rules-of-origin regulations if batteries were sourced from third countries.
Brexit proponents may see it as an example of production that might have otherwise happened elsewhere moving to the UK because of the barriers the deal erects to free trade.
Brexit for Nissan is positive, and being the largest automaker in the UK, we will take this opportunity to redefine the industry here,” Mr Gupta said.
“Brexit gives us the competitive advantage, not only in the UK, but outside the UK also. Because in how many [manufacturing] locations in Europe are the batteries localised? Very few.”
Mr Gupta said changes to customs procedures had had no impact on Nissan because of its scale.
“The sort of problems that we are seeing in the ports is peanuts, frankly. For a global manufacturer that is running 150 markets and 40 plants around the world, to have additional documentation and to fill out a form at the border, it’s nothing.
“We were prepared for it, we had upgraded our software and our processes, it’s okay. Of course when you bring a change you need to have agility, to adapt to the new change – that’s the beauty of the organisation.”
Mr Gupta said he believed the UK ban on new internal combustion engine vehicles from 2030 means consumers will begin choosing electric models from around 2024 onwards, and that Nissan will capitalise.
“I think that the UK gets the advantage by having the battery localised already.
“We are going to explore this opportunity from now onwards – not only battery, but electrified vehicles. That’s where we believe Brexit brings the competitive advantage to Nissan as a homemaker.”
He also indicated that its UK models, led by the Qashqai SUV, will have a price advantage over its direct competitor vehicles, all of which are imported.
“Of course it’s too early to say but all the statistics that we are now studying gives us the indication that we will have the competitive advantage.
“Sunderland is already one of our most competitive plants in the Nissan world. We’ve been there for more than 35 years, which means we have a very competitive supply base.
“We are also going to get an advantage with rules of origin. We are going to get an advantage from sourcing the cars which come to the UK – not only from Europe but mainly outside.”