British car industry bucks gloomy economic trend

Thu Dec 15, 2011 8:34am EST
 
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By Michelle Martin

SUNDERLAND, England (Reuters) - It's noon at Nissan's (7201.T: Quote) car assembly plant in northeast England, and the men on the early shift have already made 210 Qashqai cars from scratch.

Only another 169 to go before they can head home.

Dressed in grey jackets embroidered with their names, the trim-and-chassis team members scuttle between the shells of silver cars gliding along a conveyor belt with bonnets and boots raised, their windows yet to be glazed.

Pop music is playing as they press rubber piping into car door frames, attach windscreen wipers and push the upholstered underside of the roof into place.

They'll be making an extra three Qashqais an hour next year as the Sunderland plant increases capacity to cope with strong demand for the crossover model, which combines elements of the SUV and hatchback.

Their colleagues on the Juke production line will also ramp up production in 2012 -- by some 10,000 units of the mini crossover car -- which means another 200 jobs to achieve the new targets, according to Kevin Fitzpatrick, Nissan vice-president for manufacturing in the UK.

Britain's car industry is seeing a revival -- a bright spot in a country grappling with a record trade deficit, falling employment and a faltering economy -- as its leaders make manufacturing a key part of their strategy to rebalance the economy away from an over-reliance on financial services.

Prime Minister David Cameron took the opportunity of Toyota's (7203.T: Quote) announcement in November that it would invest more than 100 million pounds in its British operations to call for "a more balanced economy, one with manufacturing, innovation and exports at its heart."   Continued...