Nissan to support third Sunderland gigafactory

Japanese OEM will develop up to six EV models at its UK complex, underpinning additional battery making capacity

Nissan to support third Sunderland gigafactory
The Chill-Out concept will be the basis for a future Sunderland-made BEV

Japan’s Nissan will produce as many as six new BEV models at its plant in Sunderland in the northeast of England. And the plans call for a small existing battery plant at the manufacturing hub to be augmented with not just a new gigafactory currently under construction, but an additional battery making plant on top.

The project will see Nissan produce new BEV versions of its crossover models, the Qashqai and Juke, as well as a new version of its existing Leaf EV. The company also says that three “future models [are] to be inspired by Hyper Urban, Hyper Punk and Chill-Out concepts”.

The first two of these — an e-SUV crossover and an all-electric compact crossover — were unveiled at last month’s Japan Mobility Show, and looked to EV inFocus to be reasonable ideas for mass-market BEVs. The third, described by Nissan as a next generation crossover, has a longer history, having debuted in 2021 and already previously flagged as the basis for a new Sunderland-built BEV.

Nissan’s biggest market for EVs is Europe, with 320,000 of its cumulative 1mn EVs sold as of June 2023 being to the continent. Currently, 70pc of vehicles produced at the Sunderland plant are exported to the EU, with 22pc sold in the UK market, and the remaining 8pc exported beyond Europe.

One issue that will therefore have been on the Japanese OEM’s mind is the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA), the rules of origin (ROO) component of which is still scheduled to come into force at the end of this year. Unless the EU and UK agree to some sort of postponement, it will be “almost impossible”, in the view of industry lobby the European Automobile Manufacturers'​ Association, or Acea, for UK-made EVs to avoid a 10pc tariff on entering the EU.

Given that the UK’s prime minister, finance minster and business secretary have lent public support to the investment — and at least the first two were present in Sunderland for the announcement — it is fair to assume that the OEM and government have spoken in depth about the TCA. Interestingly, neither the UK government nor Nissan has made any mention of public money offered to subsidise the investment, although again the assumption is that government cash has been forthcoming.  

The project will mean a £1.12bn ($1.4bn) direct investment from Nissan which will go towards producing the two new Juke and Qashqai models. In addition to this, “wider investment in infrastructure projects and the supply chain, including a new gigafactory” will bring total investment up to £2bn.

“This builds on the £1bn electric vehicle hub announced by Nissan and its battery partner AESC in 2021, and brings total investment since 2021 to £3bn, safeguarding the future of Britain’s largest car factory as we move away from petrol and diesel cars,” the government says.

“In addition, the UK Government has awarded £15mn of funding for a £30mn collaborative project led by Nissan. It will strengthen the technical expertise and R&D zero emission vehicle capability of the Nissan Technical Centre in Cranfield, Bedfordshire,” Nissan says.

More batteries

Nissan’s Chinese battery partner Envision AESC currently operates a small 1.9GWh Sunderland battery plant but is building a second with a capacity of 12GWh, due online in 2025. No capacity figure has been offered for the new third plant, but the firm has previously suggested overall capacity after future expansion could hit 38GWh in total.

The UK’s business ministry will also shortly publish the UK’s first battery strategy, outlining the government’s plan to achieve a globally competitive battery supply chain in the UK by 2030.

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