Nissan Micra to leave Sunderland

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British plant to build new small soft-roader instead; Nissan Micra production to move to IndiaAutocar has learned that production of the Nissan Micra is to move from the British Sunderland factory to make room for a new model, understood to be a small soft-roader. Broadly similar in concept to the Fiat Sedici and Suzuki SX4, the new car will try to build on the success of the Qashqai. The Micra, meanwhile, will move to Nissan’s new facility in Chennai, India, that will also build two other models. The Micra has become synonymous with Sunderland; the car was first made at the plant in 1992 and has been the site’s bread-and-butter model since. It has outlived the Primera and Almera, which have been and gone since its debut, but the hot-selling Qashqai recently claimed the Micra’s spot as the biggest-volume car at Sunderland.Nissan has refused to comment officially on the plan, although insiders acknowledge that a reorganisation is imminent. “This will be good news for Sunderland; the factory is already at its busiest time ever and we are absolutely committed to the plant,” said one source.Another insider said to expect an announcement “within a couple of months”.Sunderland made around 350,000 cars in 2007 and this July Nissan will create 800 new jobs when it adds an extra shift to build the seven-seat Qashqai.The new Nissan Micra is already in the design phase. Its styling will be more conventional and made more aggressive compared with today’s car to boost its appeal to male buyers. However, Nissan design director Shiro Nakamura says the styling of the new Micra will not completely abandon the look first established on the mid-1990s Micra, the first one to be built in the UK. “There will still be a strong family look, but we do need to attract more male buyers,” Nakamura told Autocar.The Micra name is also under discussion; some Nissan managers believe ‘Micra’ represents a stodgy, unexciting image. The switch to a fresh new design is seen as an opportunity to bring in a fresh name, too.“There’s no decision yet, but it’s most likely to go to a global name,” an insider told Autocar. In Japan the Micra is badged as the March, which could be a possibility for the new UK name.Next year Nissan will launch a small city car in the UK that will be a rebadged Suzuki, also built in India. “It’s a stop-gap until we get an all-new city car into production,” said a Nissan source. The all-new model, which will compete against the Toyota Aygo and Ford Ka, is also likely to be built in India.

Julian Rendell

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