YOKOHAMA, Japan -- Nissan Motor Co. will make a decision next month on whether to produce the next Qashqai SUV at its Sunderland plant in the UK following the country's decision to leave the European Union, CEO Carlos Ghosn said today.
Production of the new Qashqai is expected to begin around 2018 or 2019. The time it takes to bring a new car into production means Nissan needs to decide on the location of its next-generation model soon.
Ghosn last week met with UK Prime Minister Theresa May after warning the country's decision to exit the European Union could halt investment at the plant in northern England.
The Sunderland factory, which builds the popular Qashqai and many other models exported throughout Europe, is the UK's largest car plant, producing 475,000 vehicles last year, of which 80 percent were exported.
"We're not asking for any advantage [from the UK government], but we don't want to lose any competitiveness no matter what the discussions," Ghosn told reporters at Nissan's company headquarters in Yokohama.
Ghosn said he had received reassurance that the UK government would be "extremely cautious" in "preserving the competitiveness" of the Sunderland plant. "As long as I have this guarantee ... I can look at the future of Sunderland with more ease," he said.
Media reports have said that Renault's plant in Palencia, Spain, which builds the similarly-sized Renault Kadjar compact SUV could be an alternative Qashqai production within the EU. Nissan has just begun production of its Micra subcompact, which was once built in Sunderland, at a Renault factory in Flins, France. Renault has a controlling 43.4 percent stake in Nissan.
Businesses have been concerned that the UK is headed towards a "hard Brexit", which would leave it outside the single market and facing tariffs of up to 10 percent on car exports.
About 61 percent of votes cast from Sunderland during the June 23 referendum favored leaving the EU.
Ghosn also said he expected the bulk of Nissan's initial cost savings from its partnership with Mitsubishi Motors Corp. to come from purchasing and engineering, as Nissan benefits from Mitsubishi's localized supplier network in Asia and uses the smaller automaker's technology for plug-in hybrid vehicles.
Nissan on Thursday completed a deal to take a controlling stake in Mitsubishi, retaining the embattled automaker's chief executive in a bid to help it recover from a mileage-cheating scandal.
Automotive News Europe contributed to this report