Nissan Motor’s decision to keep investing in Britain came after the carmaker told the government it might shut down manufacturing in the country after Brexit, according to a person familiar with the private discussions.
The Japanese automaker announced Thursday it would start making the X-Trail SUV and the next-generation Qashqai at its plant in Sunderland, northeast England. But only a month ago it warned that possible tariffs could damage investment in the country’s biggest car factory. The sudden shift drew questions about what assistance the government may have promised to keep Nissan in the UK.
Nissan made clear to the government that failure to build the two new car models in Sunderland would eventually lead to the closure of the plant, the person said, asking to remain anonymous because the conversations were sensitive.
The Sunderland factory employs more than 7,000 people and supports another 28,000 supplier jobs.
"There’s no special deal for Nissan" or for the automotive industry as a whole, Prime Minister Theresa May's spokesman, Greg Swift, told reporters in London. Still, what emerged was was that the government was informed of possible steps that Nissan would have to make to mitigate the effects of Brexit.
Models produced in Sunderland would over time probably be phased out by the automaker, and replaced with new lines, the person said. The rationale being that there is no point keeping a factory open if there is nothing to build. Other operations to support the factory -- such as battery production and research and development -- would also have been hit, if Nissan had not committed to the future of the plant, the person said.
Former business minister Anna Soubry called on May’s administration to reveal whether it had promised to use taxpayers’ money to underwrite any tariffs imposed on the automotive industry after the UK leaves the European Union.
“I would be very surprised if there hasn’t been some sort of guarantee to mitigate any tariffs,” Soubry said on Friday in a BBC radio interview. Nissan officials, she said, had told her tariffs were their main concern when she met with the company before the June referendum.
The person said it was not accurate to describe the points made by Nissan -- during talks before CEO Carlos Ghosn met May -- as a threat: The company was simply spelling out the inevitable implications of having to move production of the new models to other plants elsewhere in Europe.