NISSAN’S sister brand Infiniti is to end production of its cars at the Sunderland car plant and quit Western Europe as part of a global restructuring plan.
The premium car maker says it will withdraw in order to focus on its “growth markets”, including North America and China. Normal operations will continue in Eastern Europe, Middle East and Asia, it says.
Infiniti will also end sales of diesel vehicles and shift to hybrid and electric cars from 2021 onward.
The premium car maker says it will stop building the Q30 and QX30 models in Sunderland by mid-2019, and management “will discuss any impact on the plant with employees and their representatives, consulting with employee representatives where necessary and identifying opportunities for transition and training support where appropriate.”
Once this is complete, the company says it will on ending its agreements with franchised dealers, providing “the support and services necessary to ensure a smooth transition”.
Infiniti will continue to sell new cars in the UK until a detailed plan is in place for aftersales support, including vehicle servicing, maintenance and warranty repairs.
Sales of Infiniti cars in the UK have been poor since it launched in 2008, with just 16 vehicle registrations last month and a total of 750 in the whole of 2018, representing 0.03% of the market, according to figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders. That was down more than 78% from 2017, when 3,515 vehicles were registered. The brand has just 60,000 customers in Europe, according to Autocar.
The decision to end production of Infiniti models in Sunderland follows Nissan’s reversal of a plan to build the new X-Trail SUV at the factory, and fellow Japanese brand Honda’s recent decision to close its Swindon plant, at a time of great change in the auto industry.
Neither Infiniti nor Honda cited Brexit as a reason for quitting the UK, although Nissan’s Europe chairman, Gianluca de Ficchy, has said the continued uncertainty around the UK’s future relationship with the EU is not helping car companies to plan for the future.
A no-deal Brexit would result in a switch to World Trade Organisation rules, which would mean the imposition on a 10% tariff on vehicle exports from the UK to Europe.
Meanwhile, the Japanese government has agreed a trade deal with Europe that will mean tariff-free access for vehicles built in Japan.
A number of other carmakers, including Jaguar Land Rover, Toyota and Vauxhall have also expressed fears of disruption to their UK-Europe supply chains in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
Honda said that retooling the Swindon plant to accommodate electric cars makes less business sense than updating its plants in the Asian and American markets. In 2017, Honda’s plant in China produced 1.4m cars while American Honda built 1.6m cars, compared with 166,228 in the UK and 29,745 at its only other European plant in Turkey, which is also set to close.
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