The UK car industry hasn’t had much to shout about lately, so it’s no wonder that both Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Business Secretary Lord Mandelson hauled themselves up to Sunderland to bask in the reflected glory of Japanese carmaker Nissan’s announcement that it’s going to start making lithium-ion batteries in the UK. Not only will this create 350 jobs immediately, but it also makes the Sunderland plant a front-runner for the task of building Nissan’s electric cars further down the line. Although admittedly Nissan didn’t exactly say as much – and you might argue that electric car batteries are not exactly the greenest things in the world...
The lithium-ion batteries will be made at Nissan’s existing site in Sunderland, which has been officially designated as the European Mother Site for production (although it’s also going to be making them in Portugal, which may or may not be the Daddy Site). Nissan’s pumping £200m into the project, and it’s likely to create about 350 jobs on site – not to mention safeguarding various other jobs in the supply chain. To celebrate, the Government is making this the centrepiece of the UK’s second Low Carbon Economic Area, to include an R&D and training centre, a technology park and a test track for low-carbon vehicles. Mandelson said this would create ‘a hub of expertise to boost innovation and accelerate business growth in this important area of green industry.’
The big question is whether this means Nissan will also start building its ‘green’ vehicles there; these are supposed to be going on sale in the US and Japan from early next year, so a decision will have to be made soon. The carmaker is still keeping its cards close to its chest, even suggesting today it might start building batteries elsewhere in Europe too – although that didn’t stop the PM from hinting that a deal is imminent (Mandelson has apparently been bending Nissan’s ear for months on the subject, which may or may not be a good thing). As evidenced by the presence today of its two biggest hitters, the Government is desperate to get the credit for creating green jobs and boosting the UK car industry at the same time. Even, presumably, if that means ‘incentivising’ a Japanese company to make it happen.
More jobs is obviously good. But electric car batteries are not particularly green, as we’ve written before. And it’s not entirely clear that people will buy these electric cars even if we make them, at least not unless there’s a significant investment in the charging stations needed to run them. So it’s hard to escape the suspicion that this is as much about shoring up the vote in a Labour heartland as it is about the environment...
In today's bulletin:
FSA to get the chop under Tories
Nissan boosts UK car industry with 350 green jobs
Staff too scared for sickies?
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