Times must be hard when Europe’s most productive car manufacturing plant cuts 1200 jobs. Nissan’s Sunderland plant, a past European Supply Chain Excellence Award winner, is responding to a dramatic slump in demand for new cars by paring back output from a record 386,000 cars last year to a planned figure of 300,000 vehicles. The impact on Nissan’s 13 regionally-based tier one suppliers and tier two suppliers will be great. But what can be done to ease the pain?
As three-quarters of the volume of cars produced by the Sunderland plant is exported, mainly to Europe, any resurgence in demand will be dependent on economic conditions improving on the continent – from the present perspective, a dim and distant hope. The UK Government can do little to stimulate demand for new cars in Europe, but it can do a great deal to help protect a key industry and exporter by investing in maintaining Sunderland as an area of excellence in automotive production. By ensuring that education, skills and management training is enhanced during this downturn the region would be well placed to protect its market leading position for when conditions improve.
As such a large proportion of the Sunderland plant’s production is destined for Europe, competitive locations, perhaps in Eastern Europe, may well become alluring if vital skills and progressive management thinking are not retained and developed in the North East.
Unfortunately, such dangers are not far-fetched. Another exemplary manufacturing site, this time the overall winner of the European Supply Chain Excellence Awards in 2004, has succumbed to competitive pressures from Eastern Europe. Computer manufacturer, Dell, has taken the decision to move its European manufacturing base from Ireland to Poland with the loss of 1,900 jobs.
In these difficult times it is going to be increasingly important to protect the future of centres of excellence. And this can only be achieved by investing in the skills and management knowledge that established them as leaders.