I wrote recently about Nissan, and I wondered why their Chief Executive Carlos Ghosn was so bullish about British membership of the EU, insisting that any moves by Britain to re-establish its independence might force Nissan to reconsider its investments in the UK. (I also recalled that Nissan and Mr. Ghosn, ten years ago, were endorsing the importance of Britain joining the €uro. Same threat – if we failed to do so, Nissan might look elsewhere).
I noted that at the same time as Nissan was issuing these warnings, Ford was in fact closing its van operations in Hampshire and moving them wholesale to Turkey. We thus had the contrast of one major foreign auto-maker concluding that the “benefits” of manufacturing in an EU member-state were outweighed by the benefits of a lower-cost environment in Turkey, and clearly not regarding it as a problem to supply the EU from outside, while another said the opposite. Who was right? And if Nissan was (as I believe to be the case) wrong, why were they peddling this line?
It occurred to me that maybe Nissan’s relationship with Renault (which according the Renault web-site owns 43.5% of Nissan) and the French government (which owns 15% of Renault) could be a factor – do we see the hand of François Hollande here? Or had Nissan benefitted from EU funding, making it unwilling to bite the hand that fed it? So much comment about the EU is coloured be the fact that the commentators are in receipt of (or in anticipation of) EU funding. And I said that I would put a Written Question to the Commission on this point. I did. And I have the answer.
The Commission declined to comment on the motivation of Nissan and Mr. Ghosn. They declined to comment on the issue of the French government’s control of Renault. But they did have a few words to say about EU funding of Nissan. I quote their answer verbatim. Please feel free to draw your own conclusions.
“Nissan received an EIB financial support in 2009 and 2011 of EUR 640 million in total. Both the production plants in Sunderland and Barcelona each received long term loans to reduce carbon emissions and develop electric cars, in line with the applicable strategic orientations for the automotive industry (CARS 21 and CARS 2020 Action Plan). The UK production site also benefited from loans facilitating the construction of the first pilot plant in Europe for the production of batteries for electrical vehicles”.
If I’ve done my sums right, that’s well over half a billion pounds of EIB funding for Nissan. But I’m sure that Mr. Ghosn would not let a little matter of half a billion pounds colour his judgement. By contrast, I wonder how much Ford plans to save on its van operations by moving to Turkey?