LONDON -- Ford's European chief, Jim Farley, said any help offered by the UK government to companies that export from Britain to the European Union should apply across the industry.
Farley's comments came after Nissan said on Thursday that it would build the next Qashqai SUV at its plant in Sunderland, England, and add X-Trail production there. Nissan had warned that it could halt UK investments if tariffs were imposed on car exports to the EU following the country's vote to quit the trading bloc.
Nissan said "support and assurances" from the UK government had persuaded it to stay. A source told Reuters on Thursday that the government sent a letter to Nissan promising extra support if Britain's departure from the EU hits the competitiveness of the plant in the north east of England.
Ford's Farley said all automakers producing in the UK should be treated the same. "It has got to be something that is not custom-made for each manufacturer," he told BBC radio. "I can imagine that the UK government is looking at the auto sector as a whole."
Ford has no car production in the UK but it made almost two thirds of Britain's 2.4 million engines last year at its factories in Dagenham near London and Bridgend in Wales.
Britain's business minister Greg Clark said he had not promised Nissan incentives to secure a new investment. "This was not a haggle over money. This was a vote of confidence in the future of the automotive sector," he told the BBC.
Businesses have been concerned that Britain is headed towards a "hard Brexit", which would leave it outside the European single market and facing tariffs on exported cars and engines and the imported parts used to build them.
The Times reported today that Clark told the Nissan board in writing that it would ensure its UK operations "remain competitive" after Brexit, while the Guardian said the government privately advised auto executives that it is confident the sector can retain tariff -free access to the EU single market.
"Nissan may be the first to get this treatment, but it seems inconceivable that it will be the last," Jonathan Portes of the National Institute of Social and Economic Research wrote on the think tank's blog. "The UK car industry is almost entirely foreign-owned, and it is hardly likely that other firms will not seek similar treatment."
Toyota's Chief Competitive Officer Didier Leroy said earlier this week he had trust in the UK government that it will offer "fair treatment" for all companies when negotiating agreements to mitigate the effect of Brexit.
Jaguar Land Rover CEO Ralf Speth told Reuters last month that JLR would want a level playing field if Nissan was offered a compensation deal.
Nissan has invested nearly 4 billion pounds ($5 billion) in its Sunderland factory, which is the UK's biggest car plant. The Qashqai has been built there for a decade. The decision to build the new X-Trail there could create hundreds of jobs in the next few years, a Nissan spokesman said.
The spokesman said discussions were ongoing between the automaker and the government over how Britain could support and encourage the uptake of electric vehicles, a key area for the company.
Government assurances had helped the company to bring forward its decision on future production at Sunderland, which had originally been expected early next year, the spokesman said.
Reuters and Bloomberg contributed to this report