SUNDERLAND -- Nissan (IW 1000/31) officially launched production of its new Qashqai model last week, coinciding with a renaissance for Britain's car manufacturing industry that is set to smash records in the coming years.
The second-generation version of the car is being built at Nissan's main European plant in Sunderland, northeastern England, boosting employment at Britain's biggest car plant.
The Qashqai, designed in Nissan's London headquarters and originally launched in 2006, is a crossover that combines elements of a sports utility vehicle and a hatchback, and is the Japanese firm's best-selling car in Europe.
"The Nissan Qashqai blazed a trail when we started production in 2006," Nissan's chief performance officer Trevor Mann said last week.
"It invented the crossover segment, propelled the Nissan brand in Europe to a new level and helped our plant in Sunderland to set new standards in productivity and quality."
Nissan hand-picked Sunderland in 1984 as the location for the facility, which now makes four different models -- the Leaf, the Note, the Juke and the Qashqai -- and has produced a total of one million vehicles over the last two years.
Since the Qashqai was launched, around 1.75 million units have rolled off the production line at Sunderland.
Nissan, partner of Renault, boasts that the facility now produces one Qashqai every 61 seconds and exports the crossover car to 132 countries across the globe.
"We have sold Qashqais made in Sunderland to customers from Abu Dhabi to the Congo, from Bermuda to Burkina Faso," added Mann.
Aiming for Record Production
"Looking ahead, within the next year this new model will take (total) Qashqai production at Sunderland beyond 2.0 million in eight years -- and this will be another new record for the UK car industry."
This week's launch will create another 500 jobs at the plant, where the total workforce will top 7,000 for the first time.
"We have a big factory, it's competitive, it builds good quality (and) it's cost effective," said Kevin Fitzpatrick, VP manufacturing for Nissan in the UK.
He added: "It has been quite a year for us here in Sunderland. Twelve months ago we were celebrating setting a new production record (for 2012), as we became the first UK car plant ever to make more than 500,000 units in one year."
Britain's long-troubled car industry appears to be flourishing once again, with the help of foreign-owned automakers like Japanese pair Nissan and Toyota, and Indian-owned Jaguar Land Rover.
Car production in Britain accelerated by 3.1% in 2013 to just over 1.5 million vehicles, which was the highest level since 2007, industry data showed this week.
Industry body the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) added on Thursday that experts predict that the sector's annual car output could reach record levels of 2.0 million vehicles by 2017.
That would beat Britain's long-standing record of 1.92 million cars that was set in 1972 in the nation's car-making heyday.
The SMMT meanwhile forecasts that Britain could be on course to become the second biggest car manufacturer in Europe, behind only Germany.
"By 2017/2018, we may be making more passenger cars in the UK than we've ever done before and be second only to Germany in Europe in total car production," said SMMT Chief Executive Mike Hawes.
New car registrations in Britain jumped last year to 2.265 million, which was also the highest level for six years, according to the SMMT.
"2013 demonstrated the value of the UK's diverse car manufacturing industry, as surging home demand and robust exports outside Europe saw output grow 3.1 percent to over 1.5 million units," added Hawes.
"UK automotive investment announcements exceeded £2.5 billion in 2013, reinforcing industry analysts' suggestions that the UK could break all-time car output records within the next four years."
-Julien Mivielle, AFP
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2014