Nissan has delayed the start of European production of its new Qashqai for more than six months, according to a report.
Nissan was scheduled to start building the third generation of its best-selling compact SUV at its plant in Sunderland, England, in October, but now production will not start until "after April 2021," two people told the Financial Times newspaper.
The delay is largely due to the coronavirus crisis, the report said.
One source told the newspaper that there is a benefit to the delay, which is that it should give Nissan better visibility of the UK's trade relationship with the European Union, which is currently being negotiated following Brexit. The existing agreement expires at the beginning of 2021.
"I don’t think anyone is upset that COVID has pushed it back," the source said.
The downside is the delay in replacing Nissan’s top-seller in Europe. The Qashqai has already been losing ground against rivals in the key compact SUV segment, which it has traditionally led.
July sales of the Qashqai fell 27 percent to 13,128, well behind the segment-leading Volkswagen Tiguan at 21,397 and only fractionally ahead of the Peugeot 3008 at 12,699 and the Toyota C-HR at 11,964, figures from market research JATO Dynamics show.
The delay is also a blow to workers at the Sunderland plant, which has been affected by a series of job cuts related both to the slump in demand due to the coronavirus lockdowns and Nissan’s repositioning of the brand in Europe that calls for fewer but more profitable sales.
Nissan eliminated a third shift at the plant last year and does not plan to reinstate it, despite rising demand for the new Juke small SUV made there. The automaker said there was no plan to remove the Qashqai from the plant, despite the company’s warning earlier this year that Sunderland would be "unsustainable" if the UK and EU failed to reach a free trade deal, which remains possible given the lack of progress in the negotiations.
"Preparations in Sunderland continue for the launch of the new Qashqai, which represents a 400 million pound (445 million euro) investment in the plant," a spokesman told Automotive News Europe. "We have not yet announced a date for the next-generation model, but look forward to sharing some exciting news in the coming months."
Sunderland will become Nissan’s only European plant after the brand shuts its Barcelona factory at the end of the year.
Nissan had planned to shift production of the new generation of the X-Trail midsize SUV to Sunderland but reversed that last year in a decision that was partly interpreted as a lack of confidence in the UK as a production location. The X-Trail will be built only in Japan.
Despite the changes, Nissan Chief Operating Officer Ashwani Gupta told the French newspaper Le Monde in an interview published on Monday the Sunderland plant "is the best performing of all the Nissan sites. It has a special place in our history."