Nissan calls for euro entry after UK profits tumble

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The Independent Online
THE JAPANESE car maker, Nissan, yesterday called for early British entry into the euro, after disclosing that the strong pound had wiped out more than half the profits of its Sunderland plant last year.

Profits at Nissan Motor Manufacturing UK fell to about pounds 35m in 1998 compared with pounds 77m the previous year, even though the Wearside factory is now rated as the most efficient car plant in Europe. Nissan said that most of the damage to profits was caused by the strength of sterling which forced it to cut selling prices abroad.

Calling on the Government to commit itself to membership of the single currency, Sir Ian Gibson, vice president for manufacturing of Nissan in Europe, said: "We do not see much future for the UK in staying outside the euro."

Last year, production of Primeras and Micras at the Sunderland plant reached a record 289,000 of which 75 per cent was exported.

"There is no doubt that having two of our best selling models sourced from Sunderland was painful," Sir Ian added. Despite this, the UK remained one of the few profitable markets for the troubled Japanese car maker, whose worldwide losses reached pounds 173m for the first six months of the year.

This, coupled with pounds 12.5bn of interest bearing debts has forced Nissan to seek alliances with other car makers. There is persistent speculation that Nissan will be taken over by a combination of Ford, DaimlerChrysler and Renault and earlier this week the company conceded that it was prepared to sell a majority stake.

Sir Ian refused to comment on merger speculation but Nissan executives voiced confidence that the Sunderland plant would not be affected by the parent company's troubles.

Investment in the plant will rise to pounds 1.5bn this year with a pounds 215m expansion to enable the manufacture of a third model - a replacement for the Almera. This will see production next year rise to about 350,000 and the workforce increase by a further 800 to 5,000.

John Cushnaghan, managing director of NMUK, said it had no plans to shift component sourcing aboard. "I don't subscribe to the theory that you change suppliers just because of exchange rates. It could make a monkey of you."

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