Nissan plans big overhaul of British plant
Japan's Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. plans to introduce 24-hour production for the first time at its flagship British plant under a major cost-cutting overhaul, a report said Monday.
The Sunderland plant in northeast England, whose competitiveness has been battered by the strong pound, must change radically to build the successor to Nissan's successful Micra small car, the Financial Times said.
"Given current exchange rates, senior factory managers believe changes to working practices are vital if it is to become the launch plant for the (new) Micra," the newspaper said in a dispatch from London.
"The proposals include a move to 24-hour assembly for the first time, increasing potential capacity at the plant by up to 50 percent to 500,000 cars a year — by far the largest of any British car factory."
All-day output, under "three-shift production", is already used at Nissan's French controlling shareholder, Renault SA, and is planned to be introduced at Nissan's Barcelona factory. No British car factory has regular 24-hour output.
"The objective is to have the ability to reach 500,000 cars a year," compared to the Sunderland's plant current annual output of about 334,000, a senior Nissan official was quoted as saying.
"The central issue is how to reduce costs while seeking more production in a more flexible way."
The factory is already seen as being among Europe's most efficient, but Nissan's Renault-imported president Carlos
Ghosn has said repeatedly that the pound's strength against the euro is endangering new investment at Sunderland.
Last month Ghosn met Prime Minister Tony Blair to convey his concerns, amid reports that the British government is looking at giving Nissan Motor Manufacturing (UK) Co. aid of 50 million pounds ($75 million).
Nissan had begun talks with representatives of Sunderland's 5,000 workers about the planned changes, the senior official told the Financial Times.
"The workforce is very flexible but they have never been asked to change their hours like this before," the official said.
Nissan responded by reiterating that it had yet to decide whether to build the new Micra at Sunderland or a plant on continental Europe.
"If it is decided that the Micra will be produced in the UK, then 24-hour production is one possibility," said Nissan spokeswoman Ritsuko Harimoto.
"But as we've said before, a decision on where the Micra will be built will be made by the end of this year and that situation has not changed," she told AFP. "This article is based on speculation." — (AFP)
© Agence France Presse 2000
© 2000 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)