Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

The Plant That Steered the Region in the Right Direction; as Nissan's Sunderland Plant Marks 30 Years since Its Official Opening, ROBERT GIBSON Finds out How It Has Transformed the North East - and British Manufacturing

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

The Plant That Steered the Region in the Right Direction; as Nissan's Sunderland Plant Marks 30 Years since Its Official Opening, ROBERT GIBSON Finds out How It Has Transformed the North East - and British Manufacturing

Article excerpt

ON September 8, 1986, Margaret Thatcher opened the Nissan plant in Sunderland with the hope that it would "provide a steadily growing number of jobs in an area which really needs them" and "show in the clearest possible way how such areas can help to recover their prosperity and self-esteem".

At the time the plant employed fewer than 500 people and in its first year built 5,000 cars.

Thirty years on from that day, there are 7,000 people directly employed at Nissan and a further 40,000 in its supply chain. The factory now produces more than 500,000 vehicles a year and exports to more than 130 different countries.

"The impact has been massive - not just locally but nationally," said MD Kevin Fitzpatrick, one of 115 members of staff who have been at the plant for its entire history (starting as supervisor of its paint shop). "There wasn't a supply base in the North East when we started, but through the local contract requirement with the Government, we started getting parts in Europe and the UK and set the local supply base up.

"At first that was pretty poor in terms of meeting delivery and quality standards, but Nissan worked by itself and through a Government agency to train the supply base in modern manufacturing." Without the company's lead, Mr Fitzpatrick said, it is unlikely UK manufacturing would be as competitive as it now.

"We opened the door for the likes of Toyota and Honda to come here," he said. "I don't know if they would have done otherwise."

In the factory's early days, he said, there was a "cynical view" in some quarters that the company would likely disappear from the North East within five years.

At the same time, it was "very exciting" for the new recruits, many of whom were eager to leave traditional industries behind them and embrace the "great opportunities to learn" that Nissan represented.

One of the of biggest changes to take place over the years, he added, has been the increased use of robotics, with the plant now 95% automated. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.