NISSAN’S long-term commitment to the North-East could see the region become an electrical vehicle superpower, according to one industry leader.

The Japanese car giant’s chief operating officer Ashwani Gupta, said this week that the last-minute Brexit deal will “redefine” the UK’s auto industry and had given the Sunderland plant a competitive edge.

“Sunderland is one of the top three plants in the world for competitiveness for Nissan,” he said.

“Brexit gives us the competitive advantage in the UK and outside.”

He said all models manufactured at Sunderland had been protected and Nissan will move production of batteries for its Leaf electric cars, currently imported from Japan, to the plant to take advantage of zero-tariff trade rules.

The news comes weeks after technology investor Britishvolt announced plans for a multi-million pound ‘gigaplant’ in Blyth to manufacture electric car batteries.

The Northern Echo:

Chris McDonald, chief executive of the Teesside-based Materials Processing Institute, said: “The announcement that additional battery production is to be moved closer to the plant is tremendous news for its 6,000 staff as well as the 70,000 jobs it supports in the supply chain.

“As well as ending years of uncertainty, it also represents a vote of confidence in the region’s research and innovation capabilities and will surely act as a catalyst for other advanced technologies to develop.

“This area already hosts some of the world’s leading experts and innovators in new technologies, which could in future could guarantee the North East electric vehicle superpower status.”

Unite national officer for automotive Steve Bush said: "Mr Gupta's backing for the Nissan plant in Sunderland is welcome and no less than this incredible, dedicated workforce deserves.

"Through continued economic and public health uncertainty, they have battled to maintain this plant as one of the most productive in the autos sector and to put it in the best place to transition to the next generation of vehicles.

"This workforce and their community deserve a future and we will be working with Nissan to deliver this because bumpy times lie ahead."

Unite has called on the Government to push ahead with full UK-wide electrification – to bring stability to auto manufacturing in the North-East and show its commitment to green investment, levelling up and UK manufacturing.

Mr Bush said: "This country's leaders have to stop thinking in the short-term and plan now for the changes that are coming at us fast. The UK automotive sector is a world-leader, with a skilled workforce determined to continue this well into the future, but it needs a united effort between the industry, the workforce and, crucially, the government to power forward. The sector supports more that 800,000 jobs and keeps many communities thriving. We cannot afford to lose it.

"In the UK, we are sadly unique among the auto manufacturing nations in that our government sits apart from the sector, happy to reap the rewards in the good times but absent when we need the engagement in delivering for tomorrow.

"This has to change because we desperately need high-end manufacturing such as that undertaken at Nissan to provide the jobs and generate the taxes to support our economic recovery. And we need the investment in green technology to address the climate crisis and to ensure that cars made here will have a market here.

"This is the time for the government to show that it has a plan for UK automotive manufacturing beyond the next two or three years. That means becoming an active partner in providing the infrastructure, component supply and smooth trade arrangements.

"The decisions taken today by government will determine whether we have an automotive sector to speak of tomorrow. Jobs and livelihoods depend on this, but so too does the UK's future as a high skill, high reward manufacturing nation."

North-East Durham MP Richard Holden said he worked closely with Nissan in the run-up to Brexit.

He said: "I am absolutely delighted that Nissan will be shifting its battery production to the Sunderland site going forward. This will create jobs and be a huge boost for the local economy. This is especially important at the moment as we start to think about an end to the pandemic with the success of the vaccination programme.

“Nissan’s move shows what a huge opportunity Brexit is – it’s an opportunity for job creation, company growth and it’s a chance for us to be a really competitive player on the world stage and focus on our domestic policy and delivering what the British people want.

“I am really pleased with Nissan’s news and I look forward to continuing to work with them.”