By far the most important model was the ‘fake 4-wheel drive’ Qashqai – while its name might not trip off the tongue too easily, it tripped off the production line rather nicely: the Sunderland plant apparently produced 300,000 models last year. In fact, us Brits can’t get enough of the Qashqai: it’s the ninth-best selling car in the UK, having sold 36,826 cars in the first 11 months of last year.
On a more serious Note (geddit?), that Japanese earthquake could have done some major damage to the plant’s bottom line – but Nissan’s vice president for production in the UK (try fitting that on a business card), Kevin Fitzpatrick, told the BBC that the company had managed to mitigate its effect with careful planning. It cancelled overtime work, extended its Easter break and shortened time off over Christmas (when, presumably, components had become available again). ‘We are now back to the volumes we would have expected to have for the year,’ he said. Good work.
There was similarly good news at the opposite end of the executive car park – Bentley, where sales rose by 37% in 2011, which puts it back at pre-recession levels. The company sold 7,003 cars in the year to the end of December – which might not sound great when compared with the likes of Nissan, but then again, its prices start at £133,000, so its margins are probably rather more plump. Overseas sales were particularly encouraging: while the US continued to be its number one customer, China took the second spot – so don’t be surprised if Bentley follows the litany of British luxury brands heading to the Far East.
Despite all this good news from car makers, though, it doesn’t look as though the manufacturing sector as a whole fared quite as well during the end of last year. The Chartered Institute of Purchasing and Supply/Markit activity index registered a score of 49.6 in December (any score below 50 represents a contraction), suggesting the sector still isn’t picking up quite as much as the Government would like it to. So fingers crossed their rivals can begin to follow the precedent set by Nissan and Bentley during this year…