The decision by Nissan to site its European centre for battery production at Sunderland in the north-east of England is a very important move: a sign that behind all the hype and all the gloom, the industry really is changing.
The UK plant is expected to mean an investment of £200m, and create 350 direct jobs, which are not enormous numbers, but the announcement is nevertheless highly significant. The announcement is good news for the UK economy, and for the development of electric vehicles in Europe.
The factory, and another plant planned for Portugal, are intended to have a production capacity of 60,000 units per year each, which is a serious volume
Batteries are one of the most important parts of the electric vehicle equation, and controlling battery manufacture means controlling a key component of the value chain.
Investment in large-scale battery production facilities is a vital milestone on the long road to widespread use of electric vehicles. (Infrastructure for changing and recharging those batteries will be another.)
Nissan’s decisions show how traditional economics apply even in the new world of alternative energy. Nissan’s Sunderland factory has been a huge success, often described as the most productive car plant in Europe, and Portugal and the UK – which is helped by what looks likely to be the long-term weakness of the pound against the euro – are among the lowest-cost locations in western Europe.
It is a very welcome development amidst all the controversy over the British government’s inflated claims of “green job” creation, and the fact that 600 unarguably green jobs in wind turbine manufacture are being lost in the UK, as Vestas, the wind turbine manufacturer, closes its factory in the Isle of Wight and cuts jobs elsewhere in Britain.