LONDON – Nissan Motor Co.’s decision to keep investing in Britain came after the carmaker told the government it might shut down manufacturing in the country once it leaves the European Union, according to a person familiar with the private discussions.
The automaker announced Thursday it will start making the X-Trail sport utility vehicle and the next-generation Qashqai at the Sunderland plant.
However, only a month ago it warned that possible tariffs could damage investment in the country’s biggest car factory. The sudden shift drew questions about what assistance the government may have promised to keep Nissan in the U.K.
The company made clear to the government that failure to build the two new car models in Sunderland would eventually lead to closure of the plant, the person said, asking to remain anonymous because the conversations were sensitive.
The site employs more than 7,000 people and supports another 28,000 supplier jobs.
“There’s no special deal for Nissan” or for the automotive industry as a whole, Prime Minister Theresa May’s spokesman, Greg Swift, told reporters in London. Still, what emerged was that the government was informed of possible steps Nissan would have to make to mitigate the effects of the British exit, or Brexit, vote.
The person said it was not accurate to describe the points made by Nissan — during talks before Chief Executive Officer Carlos Ghosn met May — as a threat: The company was simply spelling out the inevitable implications of having to move production of the new models to other plants elsewhere in Europe.
Models produced in Sunderland would over time probably be phased out by the automaker, and replaced with new lines, the person said. The rationale being that there is no point keeping a factory open if there is nothing to build, the person said.
Other operations to support the factory — such as battery production and research and development — would also have been hit if Nissan had not committed to the future of the plant, the person said.
Former Business Minister Anna Soubry called on May’s administration to reveal whether it had promised to use taxpayers’ money to underwrite any tariffs imposed on the automotive industry after the United Kingdom leaves the European Union.
“I’d be very surprised if there hasn’t been some sort of guarantee to mitigate any tariffs,” Soubry said Friday in a BBC radio interview.
Nissan officials, she said, had told her tariffs were their main concern when she met with the company before the June referendum.
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