Nissan said Friday that it would invest an additional 1.1 billion pounds (about $1.4 billion) to make three new electric models at its plant in Sunderland in northeast England.
The announcement, which included plans for an additional battery plant, appears to go a long way to ensure that a substantial auto manufacturing industry will continue in Britain in the coming decade or longer.
Until recently that wasn’t assured. Brexit, which has made trade with the European Union more cumbersome, and the global shift to electric cars had raised fears that the British vehicle manufacturing industry faced an existential crisis. Britain’s output of cars has fallen by around 50 percent over the last six years.
“I think it is a very significant investment,” said Peter Wells, an automotive specialist at Cardiff Business School.
Besides the plan to make three electric models in Sunderland, Nissan said it would make its auto plant the anchor of a low-emissions industrial complex. The facilities would include a new plant to make electric car batteries as well as solar and wind farms to generate green electricity for the plants and a power system to link the facilities. The hope would be to attract additional suppliers, creating many more jobs.
The battery plant would join two others: one currently in operation, and another under development, both run by Envision AESC, a subsidiary of a Chinese company that partners with Nissan. Envision AESC is expected to build the third plant.
Mr. Wells said this idea of creating a green manufacturing hub in northeast England was the key to the announcement. As automakers’ shift to lower emission vehicles, they will also want to cut the carbon footprint in their manufacturing, he said.
“This is the future of this kind of operation,” Mr. Wells said. “The long game is to have zero-carbon manufacturing.”
Nissan’s Sunderland plant churned out 238,000 vehicles in 2022, more than any other assembly plant in Britain, although it previously produced half a million vehicles annually. The company announced it would make electric versions of two conventional models now produced there, the popular Qashqai and the Juke. Sunderland will also make the next generation of the Leaf, an electric model that has been made at the plant for a decade.
If successful, the plan could help protect the jobs of the 7,000 employees Nissan has in Britain. “Our U.K. team will be designing, engineering and manufacturing the vehicles of the future,” Makoto Uchida, Nissan’s president and chief executive, told workers at the Sunderland plant Friday, according to a company statement.
In recent months, auto manufacturers with substantial interests in Britain agreed to shore up the British industry. Tata, the Indian conglomerate that owns Jaguar Land Rover, previously announced an up to £4 billion investment in a large battery plant. And in September BMW said it would invest £600 million to build electric versions of its popular Mini car models in Britain.
At the same time, the British government of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has been pushed to provide aid to secure manufacturing jobs in industries like auto making and steel. On Wednesday, the government announced an additional £2 billion to support zero emissions car manufacturing as part of an overall statement on spending.
A spokesman for Nissan declined to disclose the amount of aid it would receive from the government, saying that discussions were still ongoing.