Saturday, 5 December 2015

Nissan rejects French state takeover

NISSAN executives have rejected claims that a move by the French government to strengthen its grip on the carmaker's partner Renault poses a threat to jobs in the North-East of the UK.
At the launch of the latest model to be made at Nissan’s Sunderland plant - the Infiniti Q30 – senior executives were forced to field questions about a move by France’s economy minister Emmanuel Macron to increase his government’s stake in Renault, giving it the power to direct company strategy.

The dispute began in April when Macron raised the French governments stake in Renault from 15 per cent to 19.7 per cent in a bid to increase its control over the company.

It is feared the French government could use that influence to draw Nissan-Renault investment and jobs into France at the expense of Nissan’s UK manufacturing plant.

The issue will come to a head next week when the board of Renault is due to meet to decide its response to the French government's recent moves.

It is a crucial time for Carlos Ghosn, the chairman and chief executive officer of the Renault-Nissan Alliance; a man who has risen through the ranks at Renault.

Colin Lawther, Nissan’s senior vice president, for manufacturing, supply chain management and purchasing in Europe, told The Northern Echo: "The issue you are talking about is between Renault and the French government. We don't really want to comment on it. It is a political situation. It has no impact on our manufacturing operations and we are very happy with our alliance.

                                   A flagship facility

"Jobs in this plant are not under threat. We've got 6,700 people and recruited 300 (for Infiniti production).

"This is our flagship plant, it is at the forefront of production in Europe."

Former Nissan Sunderland plant boss Trevor Mann was keen to ensure the wrangle did not distract the North-East’s biggest private employer from winning more car-making deals.

“Ours is a tough industry,” he told The Northern Echo. “We have had competition and threats since the alliance started and this is just another set of interference as far as I am concerned.

“What we should be doing is focussing on working together with Renault to improve the performance of both companies.”

Asked if France posed an increasing threat to Sunderland plant jobs, Mann added: “No more than usual. Of course, as many of your readers will have heard over the years, there has always been speculation on where the next Note, Juke or Qashqai will be produced. This plant has always put its best foot forward and risen to every challenge that has been put in front of it.

“So when you have got a good factory that performs very well on quality, cost and delivery, regardless of what else is happening out there, people have got to make business decisions. The best thing this plant can do it to keep doing what it is doing so it makes every business sense to keep producing cars right here in Sunderland.”

Workers on the shop floor shared his confidence. Ian Richardson, from Seaburn, a production manager with 26 years’ service at the plant, said: "I am convinced there is nothing to worry about. They wouldn't have just put in a new £37m press if they didn't think we had a bright future."

The Infiniti Q30 goes on sale in January 2016. Senior supervisor Paul Brown, who started at the plant on a Youth Training Scheme (YTS) 21 years ago, said the new model, which will compete with Audi, Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and Toyota’s Lexus, showed Nissan was attempting to "punch a hole in the premium car market".

Nissan's facility in Sunderland is consistently one of the company’s most efficient out of a total of 50.

Last year the plant produced over 500,000 vehicles. Thus contrasts with the 577,601 cars produced by Renault in 10 plants across France in 2014. The Sunderland plant was Europe's most efficient plant for seven years up to 2003.

Last year, Nissan contributed £1.12 billion in net income compared with Renault's £1.36 billion.

                                  Long record with Renault

Carlos Ghosn is chairman, president and chief executive officer of Nissan Motor Co., Ltd., a global automaker with more than 247,500 employees and nearly U.S. $104 billion in revenue in fiscal 2014.

Ghosn has been the industry's leading advocate for sustainable transportation. Nissan and its alliance partner Renault are the first automakers to have launched a range of affordable zero-emission cars and commercial vehicles, and have sold more electric vehicles than all other major automakers combined.

Ghosn joined Nissan as its chief operating officer in 1999, became its president in 2000 and was named chief executive officer in 2001. In 1999, Renault rescued Nissan from collapse but subsequently Nissan has outgrown its French rival with global success in vehicle manufacture and engineering. For, while Renault efficiency and production in France has been marred by strikes and trades union unrest, Nissan's plant in Sunderland, UK, is one of the best in the world.

Ghosn was named chief executive officer of Renault in 2005, in addition to his responsibilities at Nissan, making him the first person to run two Fortune Global 500 companies simultaneously. In 2009 he added the title of chairman of the board of Renault.

Ghosn is also chairman and chief executive officer of the Renault-Nissan Alliance, the most productive and longest-lasting cross-cultural partnership in automotive history, with combined global sales of 8.5 million vehicles in 2014

Since 2013, Ghosn has also been chairman of the board of AVTOVAZ, Russia's largest automaker.

Before joining Nissan, Ghosn served as executive vice president of the Renault Group, a position he had held since 1996. In addition to supervising Renault activities in the Mercosur, he was responsible for advanced research, car engineering and development, car manufacturing, powertrain operations and purchasing.

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