JAPANESE car maker Nissan has partially restarted its UK production operations after the coronavirus pandemic forced a suspension in March.
Only 50 people are returning to the Sunderland plant as part of a safety pilot, with Nissan hoping to allow more employees back to work if it goes successfully. This represents less than 1% of the factory’s 6,000 staff.
Manufacturing operations at the factory were suspended on March 17, a week before the government enforced a lockdown wherein people are only allowed to leave their houses for one of four essential reasons. Nissan announced on April 2 that the majority of its workers would be furloughed, with only staff involved in the “security and integrity” of the site remaining at work.
The 50 employees returning to the plant are part of the team responsible for manufacturing Nissan’s powertrains (engines and transmission). The company said that it had carried out “extensive” risk assessments and had collaborated with other manufacturers around the world to enforce measures that sufficiently protected employees from contracting the highly contagious virus.
Nissan said: “Regular reviews will take place throughout each phase of this pilot, taking into account the feedback from the teams involved. This will inform the return to work protocols for the rest of the factory in the coming weeks.”
The Japanese company has been using its manufacturing resources to produce Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for frontline workers. Reports have said that up to 100,000 face visors will be produced by the Sunderland plant every week.
The UK government has come under fire from health workers for its failure to produce and distribute a sufficient amount of PPE during the pandemic. An RAF plane carrying thousands of units of PPE from Turkey landed in Oxfordshire this morning.
No date has been set for Nissan’s full-scale vehicle production to resume in the UK but it has said that operations at its factory in Barcelona, Spain, will resume on May 4. Other car makers will take an interest in how the safety pilot goes, with the automotive industry keen to resume manufacturing as soon as possible.
Sales of new cars in some parts of Europe dropped by as much as 85% in March. In the UK, registrations of new cars fell by 44%, and are expected to decline further in April.
The news comes as Nissan dealers donated 100 cars to NHS workers to use for free during the coronavirus pandemic. The cars would usually be used as demonstration or courtesy cars, and models being donated include the Qashqai, Juke, Micra and pure-electric Leaf. Dealers have said the contribution will include insurance cover and roadside assistance. Workers who use the Leaf will also have free access to a charging network.