What you need to know about: Nissan

Poster child for the British motor biz or Brexit chancer? You decide

by Andrew Saunders
Last Updated: 11 Oct 2016

Formative years

Although its roots date back to 1911, the Nissan Motor Company was officially formed in Yokohama in 1934, a subsidiary of the giant Nissan zaibatsu (conglomerate).

Using parts, ideas - and even a chief designer - borrowed from the US, Datsun cars (as they were then known) began rolling off the line. But it wasn't until the 60s and 70s that its thrifty and reliable models - rejoicing in names like the Cherry, Bluebird and Fairlady - became a familiar sight on the UK's roads. The Datsun brand was dropped in the mid-80s, a $500m exercise in confusion that coincided with the opening of the giant plant in Sunderland, a huge win both for Nissan (gaining tariff-free access to the EU market) and the UK government, whose foreign direct investment programme notched up its first major success.

Recent history

Nissan Sunderland is now the most productive car plant in Europe, employing 6,700 and knocking out nearly 500,000 cars - including the bestselling Qashqai and Juke crossover models -annually.

Which makes the locals' 61.3% vote for Brexit even more baffling. Nissan's big cheeses are not best pleased by the result, and have threatened to mothball future investment in the UK if access to the single market is lost. Some Leavers have accused it of blackmail, but really it is only a repeat of what the firm has been saying for years.

Who's in charge?

The Brazilian-Lebanese-French legend that is Carlos Ghosn, perhaps the world's most accomplished automotive executive, certainly the only one who is boss of two once-rival firms - Nissan and Renault - at the same time. He rescued both with the audacious intercontinental Renault-Nissan Alliance back in the 90s. Between them the pair are now the fifth-largest carmaker in the world, and the Japanese love Ghosn so much he has his own Manga comic strip.

Don't mention

Retirement. He's been in the hot seat since 2001 but the subject of whether and when Ghosn might want to take his foot off the gas is taboo. Who could replace a superhero like that?


Sales: $101.4bn (£82.3bn)
Net profit: $4.4bn
Cars made: 5.42m


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