Nissan is investing more than £200m in building an electric car battery factory at its plant in Sunderland, creating up to 350 jobs and boosting Government plans to boost low-carbon industry in the region.
The factory, which will produce 60,000 lithium-ion batteries each year, is contingent on support from both the European Investment Bank (EIB) and UK government grants. The Japanese giant, along with its alliance partner Renault, is planning to sell electric cars in the US and Japan from early next year, before hitting the global mass market in 2012.
The Government hopes that Nissan's move will secure the group's hi-tech Sunderland plant as a site for manufacture of electric vehicles. Prime Minister Gordon Brown said yesterday: "Sunderland could now be a strong contender to produce electric vehicles for Nissan in Europe, and we will continue to work with Nissan to ensure this happens."
The firm, which already employs 4,200 people in the UK, is the country's biggest car exporter. Both the Prime Minister and Lord Mandelson, the Business Secretary, were in Sunderland yesterday to endorse the Nissan investment and launch the Government's designation of the North-east as a Low-Carbon Economic Area (LCEA). Lord Mandelson said: "The North-east has distinguished itself as the first specialised region for ultra-low carbon vehicles. This is good news not just for the North-east, but for the whole of the UK, helping to attract foreign investment and securing the UK's place as a global leader in hi-tech manufacturing and automotive industries."
The LCEA scheme was introduced in last week's Low-Carbon Industrial Strategy, in order to boost industrial development and create green jobs. The first LCEA will be in Cornwall, focusing on wind power. In the North-east, the plans include setting up a training centre to specialise in the manufacture and maintenance of electric cars, as well as a research and development centre bringing together work from the region's five universities and a test-track to try out new technologies.
The initiatives will be funded by One North East, the regional development agency, which is also looking at reopening part of the Leamside freight railway line to improve access to local ports.
The UK Government wants Britain to be the "green car capital of Europe", and manufacturers are responding. Last week Toyota, the world's biggest car maker, confirmed plans to build its hybrid Auris in Derbyshire from the middle of next year. Vauxhall is also pushing for its Ellesmere Port factory to be the European manufacturer of GM's Ampera hybrid. A US import is to go on sale next year.