It will be interesting to see how far Ghosn’s well documented ruthlessness and unsentimentality which he demonstrated in turning around Nissan in Japan will come to the fore in next month’s decision about where to invest for the new Qashqai, because really, to Nissan, the UK is not as important as a market or a manufacturing base as the UK might like to think. Plus, Ghosn has now got Mitsubishi Motors to worry about as well.
Here’s some figures to illustrate:
- UK based employees represent around 5% of Nissan’s global workforce
- UK based production represents around 10% of Nissan’s global production and around 70% of its European production (the rest is manufactured in Spain and Russia).
- Car sales in the UK market represent around 3% of Nissan’s total units sold worldwide. Europe & Russia represent around 15% of total units sold. So the UK market is about 20% of Nissan’s Europe & Russia regional sales.
From the UK perspective:
- Nissan is the third largest Japanese employer in the UK, with around 8000 employees – not only in the Sunderland factory but also several hundred working in design at Nissan Technical Centre Europe in Cranfield (ultimately registered in Belgium so that should make a quick getaway easier) and a design centre in London
- Nissan is the 8th largest Japanese employer in Europe – around 16,000 employees in total – so around half are in the UK. However the European regional headquarters is in Switzerland, to which the UK factory sells all its production. The operational headquarters and holding company for the rest of Europe is based in France.
- Nissan Sunderland’s plant accounts for nearly 1/3 of the UK’s car production. 80% of it is ultimately exported, 76% to Europe.
And of course there’s the supply chain and the jobs it provides – the UK car industry likes to say it supports around 800,000 jobs.
Calsonic Kansei is a supplier to Nissan, and is also in our Top 30 Japanese companies in the UK, employing over 1300 people – with factories in Llanelli and Sunderland – and Spain. Nissan has a substantial stake in Calsonic Kansei, but the cosy mutually supportive supply chains of 20 years’ ago have long disappeared, thanks in part to Ghosn. So it’s not hard to see Calsonic Kansei and others responding as quickly as they can to any shifts in location of demand.
It’s legendary in Japan that when a Nissan employee went to Ghosn to beg him not to axe one of the suppliers totally dependent on Nissan because it was headed up by a member of their own family, Ghosn responded “which is it to be? That Nissan collapses or your uncle’s company collapses?”
For how complex and tough life is these days in the global automotive supply chain, this comment in the Financial Times recently was very revealing:
“We manufacture part of one component for the Nissan Qashqai. We purchase raw materials from Taiwan, we manufacture in the UK in a Japanese owned factory. Our customer is in Germany, where our product is bonded together with products from other countries. Our customer’s customer is in France, where the bonded component is integrated into a car component. The component is shipped to Sunderland and becomes a part of a “British” car.
How Mrs May and her merry band are going to sort this mess out is beyond me, and I suspect beyond them.
The development time lines for the most basic of automotive components is two to three years, which means that we are already “post Brexit” for new business development. How do I persuade customers to invest in new product development with us when nobody has a clue on what basis I might sell eventually sell my product to them, and given rules of origin, in some cases on what basis they might sell their product to their customer. We have good relationships with our customers, but at the end of the day they are running their business for their benefit and may well decide its just not worth the uncertainty and risk.”
Carlos Ghosn is “reassured” by Theresa May saying that the British government would be “extremely cautious” in maintaining Nissan’s Sunderland UK factory’s competitiveness. But he may nonetheless think some rebalancing is in order.
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