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Production of next Nissan Leaf could begin as soon as March

Work is well under way to electrify the Sunderland plant but keeping operations in the UK "is a re...


  • May 23 2024
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Production of next Nissan Leaf could begin as soon as March
Production of next Nissan Leaf could begin as soon as March
Work is well under way to electrify the Sunderland plant but keeping operations in the UK "is a real challenge"

Nissan’s UK factory is primed to start production of the next-generation Leaf from March 2025 as part of a wide-reaching £2 billion transformation of the Sunderland plant.

Morphing from hatchback to crossover, as previewed by the Chill Out concept in 2021, the Leaf will be built alongside the Juke and Qashqai, as well as their pure-electric successors due in the coming years. 

The current-generation Leaf ended production in March and work has already begun on incorporating a new battery installation station onto the production line (see picture below).

Production trials will start in August and run for six months. If all goes smoothly, the line will be ready to take its first Leaf models from as early as March next year, so the wraps are likely to come off the car towards the end of 2024. 

Nissan is investing heavily in the future of the Sunderland factory, where it has just started building the facelifted Nissan Qashqai, but its commitment to keep building cars in the UK is "not without its handicaps”, according to regional manufacturing boss Alan Johnson.

“We can just about justify continuing operations here, but it is not easy. It’s a real challenge,” he said, citing stringent cost-saving efforts – including a data-driven efficiency push – as a key factor in the factory’s ongoing viability, rather than local incentives.

He added that producing EVs in the UK “can work” but “only if all the stars align”. 

“When it comes to competing against other countries, there are a fair number of handicaps in the UK,” he said.

Johnson referenced the difficulties in optimising supply chains and the lack of “good solid policies” but he said the cost of energy is the most inhibitive factor. “We pay sometimes twice what is paid in mainland Europe”, which drives up production costs and reduces the margin on each car sold, he said. 

In a bid to combat that, Nissan is ramping up efforts to source renewable energy locally. Currently, 20% of the factory’s energy usage – which totals around 350MW a week – comes from on-site wind and solar farms. The firm wants to boost this to 100%, but has not given a timeframe for achieving that. 

Asked why Nissan chose to stick with Sunderland in light of the increased costs, Johnson said: “We are here. We’ve got an asset here. That’s not just facilities. That’s also the people. Therefore, it is in our interest to get the best out of the assets that we have.”

He added that although the government did not contribute to the latest £2bn plant funding package – instead it was funded by Nissan and its partners – some financial support from Westminster had been received, which has “helped get these projects over the line”.

The transformation of the Sunderland site, a project called EV36Zero, includes the construction of a second battery factory next door to supply batteries for the next Leaf, and a third gigafactory also planned nearby. They will be run by Nissan’s Chinese partner, Envision. 

Within the factory itself, the former Leaf battery assembly line is being converted for the electric Juke, due in around 2027. Engineering manager Guy Reid told Autocar that this is the beginning of a new era for the Sunderland plant, which opened in 1984 to build the Bluebird hatchback. “Significant changes are needed to open up a line that has been building ICE cars for over 30 years,” Reid said.

These changes include replacing the carriers that transport vehicles across the line because they won’t be able to support the extra weight of EVs. 

Training the factory’s staff for EV production is another important strand of the investment package. All over the factory, in closed-off areas shielded from view by ‘top secret’ banners, employees are being upskilled in a wide array of different roles, and will then be “drip-fed” onto the new EV lines when they become operational.

Plant boss Adam Pennick said: “We have to upskill our whole plant. That creates its own challenges. We can maintain our quality reputation.” 

The workforce is also in line to be significantly expanded, to cope with a drastic rise in the number of cars built at Sunderland. Projections suggest the plant’s 300,000-unit annual output could double when the new EVs come on stream.  Nissan currently has around 7000 UK employees and claims to support around 30,000 jobs in the wider UK supply chain.

“These are exciting times for Nissan in Sunderland,” said Pennick.

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