A no-deal Brexit would put Nissan’s entire European business model in jeopardy, the car manufacturer has said in its strongest warning yet over the UK’s departure from the EU.
Gianluca de Ficchy, the chairman of Nissan Europe, said the imposition of a 10% tariff on exports under World Trade Organisation (WTO) terms would threaten the future of its large Sunderland plant.
“If we are in a situation in which tomorrow we have to apply 10% export duties to 70% of our sales, the entire business model for Nissan Europe will be in jeopardy,” he said.
Nissan promised in 2016 to build the new version of the car in Sunderland after receiving assurances from Theresa May’s government that it would be protected from the impact of Brexit.
The carmaker, which employs 6,000 people at Sunderland and supports another 24,000 jobs in the supply chain, has previously made only measured statements about the impact of the UK’s departure from the EU.
De Ficchy made the firm’s strongest intervention yet on Thursday when he expressed frustration with the British government over the lack of clarity for businesses three weeks before the 31 October departure deadline.
He said Nissan was in discussions with Boris Johnson’s government about Brexit, but added: “The only frustration we have today, as before: we don’t have clarity.”
He said two-thirds of the 160 suppliers for the new Nissan Juke, which begins production in Sunderland next week, were based in the EU and 70% of its sales would be exported to the union.
“If no deal means the sudden application of WTO [terms] we know that our business model [in Europe] won’t be sustainable in the future.”
He said the company had war-gamed the consequence of various Brexit outcomes and did not believe it could offset the impact of 10% export tariffs on the 440,000 cars produced in Sunderland each year.
“We do not have a specific message to Boris Johnson – my message [is] as a business we do not have a clear understanding on the future evolution of the Brexit discussion.”
De Ficchy was speaking at the Sunderland plant, which last year produced its 10 millionth car and has become the UK’s biggest car manufacturing site since it was opened by Margaret Thatcher’s government in 1986.
He said a decision to end night shifts at the plant was not linked to Brexit but was aimed at optimising the two production lines for the models built there, including the new Juke.
He said the workforce at Sunderland was an asset to be preserved, with a successful history of producing 10 million “high quality” vehicles.
“We know the workforce is concerned about that [Brexit] situation – we are also concerned. That’s the reason we are here, to express our concerns.”