Honda may have announced that it is to quit Swindon and Nissan has said it is to withdraw its Infiniti brand from production in Sunderland — but Britain is to get a new Japanese car brand to assemble: Suzuki.
The Times can also reveal that another Japanese carmaker, Mitsubishi, is considering moving some production to the UK.
The Japanese companies Toyota and Suzuki yesterday announced a global manufacturing collaboration. It means that in the UK, small Suzuki estates will be rolling off the Toyota production line at Burnaston in Derbyshire.
The new Suzuki — the first car the company will have produced in Britain — is expected to go into production next year. The car is a petrol-electric hybrid like most of the Corolla models that Toyota produces at Burnaston, and the its engines will be made by Toyota’s factory on Deeside in north Wales.
While it is good news for Toyota workers, the company conceded that it will not create any new jobs. “Seeking to produce additional volume for other customers is one example of all the efforts we are making to keep our UK manufacturing operations as competitive as they can be,” Marvin Cooke, Toyota UK managing director, said.
Though it would appear to be a thumbs-up for the struggling car industry in Britain, the Suzuki production decision is also realpolitik by Toyota.
It has spent £240 million on a revamp of Burnaston but the plant is heavily underutilised. Assembly of the Suzuki can easily be incorporated as the new car will essentially be a Corolla with a Suzuki badge but with less sophisticated gadgetry for a more budget brand.
Toyota employs 2,600 at Burnaston and further 600 on Deeside. Last year it produced 130,000 cars, less than 10 per cent of total UK factory output and well down on its 2016 level of 180,000.
As the crisis grew in the car industry Honda decided to close its Swindon plant with the loss of 3,000 jobs; Jaguar Land Rover is in the middle of 6,000 jobs cuts; and Nissan said it would not bring its new X-Trail model to its Sunderland factory which will also stop assembly of the upmarket Infiniti.
However, industry sources have confirmed that Sunderland could yet begin production of a Mitsubishi. Nissan is in a cross-shareholding alliance with Mitsubishi. It is understood that if there is a satisfactory outcome to Brexit negotiations, Mitsubishi could take up spare capacity in the factory which is capable of producing more than 500,000 cars a year but which last year made 442,000.