Friday, 8 July 2016
How a Bluebird started an industrial revolution
As the UK heads for its second woman Prime Minister and challenging lie months ahead, today marks the 30th anniversary of Nissan Motor Company’s faith in the country.
Thirty years ago today, the first Bluebird car was driven off the production line at the Japanese firm’s Sunderland plant. In so doing, the Japanese company set the ball rolling for a new technological revolution.
A revolution that also saw the transformation shop-floor working practices and ethics
The company became the first Japanese company to start making cars in the UK, to be followed by Honda Motor Company And Toyota Motor Corporation. Then German car maker followed suit with it acquisition of Rover Group which led to the manufacture of iconic MINI cars at Oxford, coupled with its infrastructure plants at Hams Hall and Swindon. Later the Indian company Tata Motors acquired Jaguar and Land Rover and made a further transformation of the industry to the point that country is now one of the world’s leading major car producers.
One of the technologies that Nissan introduced was the use of robotic equipment to enforce new and consistent quality standards of welding precision, a move quickly followed throughout the whole of Europe.
Robots are now standard equipment for other processes besides spot welding, including inter-press handling, arc welding, self-piercing riveting, inspection, assembly and glazing.
Nissan's first Bluebird saloon to pass down the line was met by cheers of delight from workers and senior officials.
Heralded as a beacon for the North-East’s future economy, more than 20,000 Bluebirds were built in the first year. During the next decade, Nissan’s presence grew, with staff numbers increasing to make new models.
In December 1998, the two millionth car produced at the factory, a Micra, rolled off the production line.
The plant, officially opened by then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, later Lady Thatcher, now employs 6,700 people and previously became the first UK car factory to make more than 500,000 vehicles in a year.
The plant, which witnessed the introduction of many Japanese manufacturing and supply chain techniques (including Just-in-Time and TPM - Total Productive Maintenance), has now made 8.7 million vehicles across a number of different models, including Bluebird, Primera, Micra, Almera, Note, Qashqai, Juke and all-electric Leaf hatchback.
The site is also now manufacturing the Q30 for sister luxury marque Infiniti. This car will soon be joined by the QX30, with both primed to become the first premium models to be made art Sunderland and exported to the US and China.
Interestingly, Nissan from the outset spotted talented British managers to take charge of its new pioneering investment in a green-field facility that would become a benchmark for manufacturing efficiency, setting in train further moves by Japanese companies to establish manufacturing footholds in Europe.
It can also be said, that just as the Japanese managed to transform British attitudes to car manufacture, so the Ford Motor Company failed to harness British skills and as a result not only abondoned the UK as a car manufacturing location but topped this up with an abidaction of the manufacture of vans. General Motors is the only North American company to rely on the UK for the manufacture of cars and vans.
A common thread in all these Japanese plants has been the English language which all these companies have come to recognise as the universal language.