The recession-battered motor industry was given a huge boost yesterday when Japanese giant Nissan announced plans to invest £200 million to build batteries for electric cars, creating 350 jobs.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown and business secretary Lord Mandelson warmly welcomed the news during a visit to the firm’s plant in Sunderland which is now a contender to manufacture the group’s new “greener” electric vehicles.
The Government also named the North East as the second Low Carbon Economic Area, including a training centre which will be the first to specialise in the manufacture and maintenance of ultra-low carbon vehicles.
Over the next two years, 750 charging points will be installed across the North East, including supermarkets, shopping centres, public transport installations, hospitals, universities, public buildings and domestic and business premises.
The first points are currently being installed in Newcastle and Gateshead.
Nissan will also manufacture batteries at a plant in Portugal in its alliance with Renault.
The firm described the announcement as a “first significant step” towards producing batteries for its zero emission mobility programme in Europe.
“The two governments have offered to extend financial assistance and other support to ensure that Nissan locates the proposed plants within their respective countries.
“This recognises the significant contribution that the plants are likely to make to the long-term health of both the national and regional economies by being central to the growth of the automotive and associated industries, boosting jobs and the skills sector and pioneering the manufacture and sale of zero emission vehicles in Europe,” the firm said.
The announcement is seen as a big boost for the long-term future of the Sunderland plant, which was forced to shed 1,200 jobs in January as it battled to overcome the crisis in the motor industry.
The Prime Minister told workers: “This product shows that Britain will lead the way in the new, low-carbon jobs of the future. The message from the North East is, just as you led the way in the transport and industrial revolution, so too you are now leading the way with the low-carbon revolution.
“I know as a country we face challenges. The question often asked of me is, where are the jobs of the future going to come? People are answering that question here at Nissan today.”
Lord Mandelson said: “This is good news not just for the North East, but for the whole of the UK, helping to attract foreign investment and securing UK’s place as a global leader in hi-tech manufacturing and automotive industries.”
Low Carbon Economic Areas were announced as part of the Government’s low carbon industrial strategy last week, with the first based in the South West of England, specialising in wave and tidal technology.
Friends of the Earth’s Tony Bosworth said: “Electric cars are only as clean as the energy used to power them, and the UK’s renewable energy industry is still lagging way behind the rest of Europe.”
Shadow transport secretary Theresa Villiers said: “Labour’s record on low-carbon transport was damaged beyond repair the day they gave the go-ahead for a third runway at Heathrow.”