Nissan sparks another revolution in motoring at their UK head office in the North East

A true pioneer in automotive technology with its UK head office in the North East, which brought to the world the first crossover vehicle and mass-market electric car, remains at the forefront of electrification and sustainable transport with ambitious plans for a cleaner future

It’s a stark image that sums up perfectly a global issue – a heavily masked uniformed officer directing traffic on the vehicle-choked streets of a Japanese city.

So when environmentalists began waking the world up to the polluting dangers of the internal combustion engine it was a Japanese manufacturer that was among the first to listen. By 2010 Nissan was producing the very first mass-market electric vehicle, the appropriately named LEAF, starting a green revolution that has spread through the industry.

Home for that model is currently the record-breaking production factory built 35 years ago near Sunderland, the biggest plant in the history of the UK automotive industry, which supports 46,000 jobs.

As Nissan accelerates its goals to become carbon zero the latest phase sees the plant being transformed into a £1billion flagship electric vehicle hub and another world first, an EV manufacturing ‘ecosystem’.

Nissan’s headquarters in Sunderland

Called EV36Zero, the project strives to meet three aims:

  • Build 100 per cent electric vehicles
  • Use completely renewable energy
  • Develop sustainable battery technology that will set a blueprint for the future of the automotive industry.

At every point Nissan has pledged to look at the past, present and the future in order to produce sustainable modes of transport for generations to come and for the past 12 years has been studying the LEAF, particularly the degradation of its batteries, to come up with solutions to minimise the carbon footprint of transport.

The current Nissan electric range is on the cusp of a major expansion. LEAF remains the stalwart of the EV range but given that Nissan invented the very first crossover in the Qashqai, it was only a matter of time before it launched an EV SUV, which it is now doing with the all-electric Ariya. An electrified X-Trail is also in the pipeline, as is a hybrid Juke.

For those who find 100 percent electric vehicles a step too far, Nissan is launching e-Power.

In a novel approach to cutting emissions and boosting economy, the new e-Power Qashqai side-steps the traditional hybrid approach to produce an electrically powered vehicle that doesn’t need charging. It features batteries and electric motors that conspire to drive the wheels but the onboard, super-efficient, 1.5 three-cylinder combustion engine is no more than a petrol generator to charge the electrics.

Nissan Qashqai

Of course, new cars need new batteries and to maximise efficiency and minimise carbon heavy transportation miles, EV36Zero is also seeing the construction of a ‘gigafactory’ at Sunderland equipped with state-of-the-art technology.

World-leading battery producer and long-standing partner of Nissan, Envision AESC, agreed to build the factory expanding the existing facility on site that has made batteries for LEAF for some time.

Envision AESC is the battery arm of global green tech company Envision Group and when it opened the plant in Sunderland it was the first in Europe. It will now deploy integrated artificial intelligence (AI) smart technology to monitor and optimise energy consumption, manufacturing and maintenance at the new gigafactory, enabling it to rapidly increase production and provide batteries to power up to 100,000 Nissan electric vehicles a year.

The factory’s UK team has years of expertise from supplying batteries to the Nissan LEAF and eNV200 van and has produced enough cells, modules and packs to power over 180,000 electric vehicles in 44 countries.

The latest battery technology means Nissan’s EVs will travel further between charges, be quicker to recharge and at the end of their useful car life will be reused for other power storage purposes. Old EV batteries are already being used to power the lights of football stadia, for instance, and at the Sunderland factory can be used to store energy from Nissan’s renewable energy sources.

Nissan LEAF

Nissan president and chief executive officer Makoto Uchida says: “This project comes as part of Nissan’s pioneering efforts to achieve carbon neutrality throughout the entire lifecycle of our products. Our comprehensive approach includes not only the development and production of EVs, but also the use of on-board batteries as energy storage and their reuse for secondary purposes.

“This will greatly accelerate our efforts in Europe to achieve carbon neutrality and the experience and know-how gained through the project will be shared globally. Nissan will continue to leverage its strengths in electrification to become a company that continues to provide value to its customers and society.

“Commitments like these exemplify our ability to create hundreds of green jobs and boost British industry, whilst also allowing people to travel in an affordable and sustainable way so we can eliminate our contributions to climate change.”

Nissan’s chief operating officer Ashwani Gupta adds: “Nissan EV36Zero will transform the idea of what is possible for our industry and set a roadmap for the future for all. We reached a new frontier with the Nissan LEAF, the world’s first mass-market, all-electric vehicle. Now, with our partners, Nissan will pioneer the next phase of the automotive industry as we accelerate towards full electrification and carbon neutrality.”

Of course, producing eco-vehicles falls flat unless they can be manufactured with clean, fossil fuel-free power.

Thankfully the Nissan ‘ecosystem’ approach will deliver 100 per cent renewable electricity with the microgrid saving 55,000 tonnes of carbon a year. This will be achieved by expanding the existing Nissan wind and solar farms to generate an anticipated 132megawatt (MW) of power.

A first-of-its-kind project valued at £80 million, it would also see a 1MW battery storage system constructed using ‘second-life’ Nissan/Envision AESC batteries, to store excess energy generated during daylight hours.

EV36Zero’s three-pronged approach will create 6,200 green jobs, comprising more than 900 new Nissan jobs, 4,500 in the UK supply chain and 750 at Envision AESC, while safeguarding a further 75 research and development jobs. The latest project takes the total capital investment by Nissan into the plant past the £5bn mark.

Envision AESC also sees potential future-phase investment being worth £1.8bn by generating up to 25GWh and creating 4,500 new high-value green jobs in the region by 2030, with potential on site for up to 35GWh.

The new battery plant will increase the cost-competitiveness of EV batteries produced in the UK, including through a new Gen5 battery cell with 30 per cent more energy density which improves range and efficiency. This commitment will power Nissan’s new vehicles, supporting the continued localisation of vehicle parts and components with advanced technology.

Nissan GB’s managing director Andrew Humberstone says: “Nissan is creating a future-proof and sustainable EV manufacturing hub right here. We look forward to leading a new era of design, electrification and connectivity.”