Electric Dreams

Electric Dreams

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Nissan - the jewel in the crown of the north-east economy. Once


clouded with suspicion, it's now Europe's most productive car plant.


We go behind the scenes as it gambles on becoming the first mass


producer of all-electric cars. Nissan are taking a huge risk with


the Leaf because they are the first to market, they've bet the farm on


it, and it's extremely brave. ask, are Nissan's electric dreams


on full charge or do they risk OK, so help yourself to hi-viz


jackets here. A critical day for these people. It could be the start


of a job which will bring security and the chance to be part of an


extraordinary north-east industrial story. Every single vehicle you see


in this plant is a customer's order. There is not a single car that we


make that will stand in a compound and wait to be sold. For Percy,


it's a chance for a new career after leaving the Army. I was in


the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers so it's generally a


mechanical background that I've been in the past 24 years. Percy is


one of hundreds who want to work here. With one in 10 people out of


work on Wearside, Nissan can be choosy about who it hires, With at


least 10 applicants for every new It takes 59 seconds for the body to


go past. Not 58 seconds, or one minute, exactly 59 seconds. You


won't see them running and you won't see them standing still. How


long do you think it takes us to put that dash in? Someone want to


give me a guess? 20 seconds? 30? 30 to 50 seconds, yes? Settle down and


have a look. Here we go, as you pass it through the right side


front door, I'll start counting, ready? One, two. Two seconds. So


two seconds is all that it takes to get this dashboard in there. It's


pretty efficient. I was pretty surprised. It shook me a little bit,


to see just how quickly these things come together. 3.5 hours to


produce a car. You've got the timescale, you got a job to do, you


know exactly what your job is, and you've just got to get on and do it.


It was like going into a different world, really, it was like going


into Santa's workshop. All these people working at such a high level


for such a long period of time is just inconceivable, really. You see


this white stuff they're putting on the car there? That's to stop bird


strike - that's the posh word for it! This year, Nissan broke all


production records at its Sunderland plant, when the 7


millionth car rolled off the line. And that, gentlemen, is all there


is to making a Nissan. The time from when you first come into this


shop to going out the door and putting more than 4,500 parts in


the car, 3.5 hours. And that, gentlemen, is all there is to it.


Well, that's regular cars, but what about making - and selling - the


new electric model? From a marketing point of view, it's an


absolute nightmare. How do you sell a car like that into a market that


is absolutely rigid with misinformation and preconceptions?


Nissan makes one car every four minutes. More than 80 % go to


It's a success story born out of industrial misery on Wearside 30


We were close to the end of the decline in traditional industries


and people were wondering how the city would make its living in


future. And where would we get the jobs from? There was lots of angst.


Unemployment in Sunderland specifically was growing rather


alarmingly and in some ward areas, probably well in excess of 20 %


John Bridge was working for the Northern Development Company when


he heard a whisper that Nissan was looking to set up shop in Britain.


I then go to Tokyo in early March 1981, and as it turned out, the


first region in the whole of the UK that was able to make a substantial


presentation to what was then known as the Nissan product team. There


were fewer pickets outside Austin Rover were Cowley plant today...


But Britain's poor record of industrial relations, particularly


in carmaking, was putting off foreign investors. There were


appalling things going on in the industry as a whole. It did come as


a bit of a surprise to me that they were as open to doing a deal.


Foreign car-makers in Britain had been talking more about reducing


their operations or even leaving completely. They had major concerns


about the state of the car industry in the UK at the time and they


didn't want to if you like, to inherit those sort of


characteristics, so a clean, green field, fresh start type of


environment was what they were really looking for. Nissan's final


choice will be from three sites - Sunderland, Humberside and Shotton.


So against the odds, Nissan signed the deal to build cars in Britain.


But where was still up for debate. The Japanese have told government


officials that they will make a decision by the end of this month.


It was a battle to land the big prize. So, why did Nissan choose a


disused airfield on Wearside? Thatcher government said, OK, you


can have this land, for agricultural prices. There was a


lot of anecdotal stuff, things do the rounds like the blokes in


Sunderland like a drink after work, but the blokes in the north-west


like a drink during work. So, the Japanese must have been kind of


dazzled at all of this contradictory information and to


have made the decision they did was really, really difficult, but the


government helped an awful lot. They may well have got some nods


and winks from the construction industry which spreads obviously


over the whole kingdom about where industrial relations and worker


discipline was better than some other places. And I think that the


north-east came out pretty well in Every connection was milked to


curry favour. One of the stories that we heard was that there was a


very famous battleship in the Japanese Navy, that was part of


some big naval battle it had had with the Russian Empire. And they


defeated the Russian Navy where they were expected to get trounced.


And this big battleship was made in But, history can be a double-edged


sword. The memories of what had happened to, particularly our


prisoners of war in Japan, were still very real, they were very


recent. These wounds were still raw. There was an element of saying that


you couldn't trust the Japanese, that we should maintain a hostile


attitude towards them. To think that we had all that trouble with


the Japanese, and they'd been so cruel to us, and there, we were


going to help them to set up a factory, well, it just didn't seem


right to any of our prisoners of war. Len Gibson spent all of his


Second World War in a Japanese prison camp. Many of his old


comrades protested against Nissan. They had little placards made


around their chests. They daubed paint on some of the walls, they


found one of the councillors and bombarded him with questions. And


gave him a hard time. Despite the opposition, Nissan chose the north-


east. The Japanese car-makers, Nissan, finally announced where


they are building their British plant. It is to be at Washington


TRANSLATION: I feel that this is a most important occasion. The start


of a new relationship with the people of Sunderland and the north-


Three decades on, Nissan is ploughing millions into another


massive leap into the unknown. It's June 2012, and they're working


around the clock to make the changes needed to build the Leaf.


We try to make it as simple as possible. You will not put new men


into a line to build the Leaf vehicle. You will use the people


that build the Nissan Qashqai, to also build the Leaf. Here, staff


are being trained on how to fit the battery. We don't know what to


expect. We don't know if it's going to sell well, or if it's not, but


it is exciting in that way. If it does sell well, we are the first


ones to kick it off, so everyone always thinks that Nissan were the


first ones to go forward. The Leaf, make no mistake about it, is


compromised because it's only got a 100 mile range and it costs too


much money although they have recently reduced the price, and it


really takes too long to charge, but that's a malaise that affects


all electric cars. Nissan believes everyone should be able to drive


the future, today. In terms of the way it drives, and the way it looks


in its interior, it's really very good indeed. It's the market leader.


So it gets good reviews, but it costs more than �20,000. And that's


not all. When you're making a petrol car, I don't have to think


about where the nearest petrol station is. With electric vehicles,


it is important to know where the nearest charging stations are.


Nissan is working with the British government on plug-in places to


develop a charging infrastructure in the UK. Imagine a car factory


where no-one ever goes on strike. And where no-one is made redundant


either. Back in the 80s, it was industrial relations that needed a


fresh approach. The managing director gets just the same as men


on the line. My advice to them, all the way through, was to deal with


their workforce inside the factory, in working hours, and not to allow


meetings to take place in the car park or someone like that, outside


working hours, because then they could be infiltrated by outsiders.


And they understood quite clearly those messages. Or is this just a


People were thinking, well, will we have any union deal? Yes, there was


a lot of trepidation. There was a lot of people wondering how this


would work out. Nissan insisted on having a one-union deal. I was


lucky, really, because the union, I was in, it was the union that was


in when Nissan came over, there was a lot of turmoil in the car


industry with the unions, and I guess that one of the things Nissan


looked at was to sort of get an agreement with the one union and,


that way, they could maybe get through difficulties, but it was a


lot easier. At the operation in Washington, the royal couple


painted in the eye of a traditional doll. So, the deal, sweetened by


multi-million pound government subsidies, stayed on track. The


plant finally opened in 1986, with ambition that appeared sky-high.


believe the employees are determined to demonstrate that


Nissan United Kingdom can, at the least, draw level with and then


overtake the success and quality APPLAUSE. We were one of the first


lines that she came to. At that time I was a team leader on the


chassis section. This was responsible for basically, the


underfloor of the vehicle. I was very young, 24 years old, probably


couldn't remember what she said to me at the time, but it was a great


day. Trevor Mann is now on Nissan's executive board based here in Japan.


It's a long way since his early days on the production line in


Sunderland. Trevor was in the first wave of key workers sent here in


the early 80s to learn the Nissan way of building cars. Whatever


preparation we could have done, at Sunderland at that time, could


never have been enough for what we experienced coming into Japan. If


you haven't been associated with an industry like this, or the car


industry, you could never imagine what it was like. It was a huge


plant, a huge operation, very busy Since the 80s, thousands of staff


have been sent from Sunderland to Japan. Since last year, the first


trip, I've been over nearly three times, I think. To try to


understand exactly how they do their work, and see what processes


I can put back into the UK process. And we need to rebuild, now,


roughly? Today, Les Green is trying to solve a specific problem with


the Leaf. The area I've been looking at is the glove box, and


the switch panels on the dashboard and see how we connect them, see


how we use the same sequences, and whether there are any difficulties


in that area. They've seen the problems, they fed them back to us,


this is an opportunity to see those problems in real life and see what


improvements they've made, so I'm benchmarking against what the


Japanese have done on the Leaf. You can tell, now, it's starting to go.


It's not all about building cars. The weekend is a time to get away


from the factory and do some teambuilding. It's to get away from


the normal, mundane game of, yes, you're in Japan, normally, where


ever you go, there's people in a high-rise area. Four it was an


opportunity for their new lives to see a bit of the country well and


just being in Tokyo, to take them The output from the Sunderland lads


has not always won universal approval. The first model produced


was the Nissan Bluebird. It had all the charisma of an old shoe. By the


time the Nissan Primera and the Micra arrived, we saw this for what


it was, one of the best car plants in the world. No longer just


assembling imported parts, the sun ploughed millions into the factory


to make cars from scratch. I knew that they were doing it seriously,


then. The minute you put that plant in You're anchoring manufacturing


in that location. By the end of the decade, the company had spent more


than �1 billion in Sunderland, but it was looking overstressed. They


were starting to lose quite a lot of money. And we were very worried.


Nissan is heavily in debt, and even though the Sunderland plant is the


most efficient factory in Europe it is Renault that now calls the shots.


Renault made a significant cash injection into the company. Renault


know how we to greater productivity, new models and more jobs. But


then... It has been a day of turmoil on the money markets.


credit crunch lead to an overnight slump in sales. The company was


forced to do a U-turn on its job- for-life pledge, and one-fifth of


the workforce was laid off. security is one of the biggest


things. It was a massive shock. That was a very difficult time


indeed, for the plant manager but for her everybody involved,


particularly the employees and their families who are obviously


felt threatened. The company rode out the recession thanks to the


popularity of new models and a favourable exchange rate. 2,000


more staff have been taken on. Nissan is now the linchpin of the


local economy. For every one job at the Sunderland plant there are


another four in the supply chain. In the north-east we have just over


1100 people at a facility set up to supply the sand. Poor growth has


none of their expansion plans. Without them we would not be you


run the north-east. This is the final inspection the area for the


instrument panel. We send a vehicle down every two hours. This time


tomorrow these instrument panels will be in a finished state. Nissan


insists suppliers take on his regimented way of working. There is


one cockpit module delivered every minute. The company has cut staff


embedded in the manufacturing. is the point rubber cockpit modules


are delivered to Nissan, fitted by the manipulator of you can see


behind me. 30,000 people and their families, all those people are


taking money into the MetroCentres of this world, and the leisure


centre, so without Nissan, there would be a big hole. Iowa just


watch you and the time you to make sure that you're doing the job well.


It is late summer, 2012. The latest batch of recruits, including former


soldier, Percy, our man on the shop floor. Things have to be done at a


certain time. It is very rare that the deadline is missed. A lot of


organisations, if you are five minutes later it is not a big drama,


but at Nissan, you have to be on time, so does the army, so there is


that discipline within the sun, and you talk about the subtle


differences between soldiers and civilians. Civilians say no, which


is something I am not used to. new staff and work in very


different conditions from the heat and noise of the rest of the


factory, the ones to make the batteries. And the battery plant


you do not realise the level of technology that is being developed


to make this a commercial success. This process is wasp more or less


100% automated, with very little manual intervention. High-speed


Over the years, hundreds of Japanese families have been coming


to the north east to work on the sun and their suppliers. And some


have settled permanently. Today's event is the annual meeting of the


North East Japanese Women's Association. And thank you for that.


The event is organised by Sayoko Smith. In the north-east people do


care about us and about people in general. It is a wonderful


community. When I first came here which was 8.5 years ago, I could


not understand a word. But she is now an expert. Any Mayuki works at


Nissan. My job is to help people settle to get accommodation, to


find a GP and open a bank account. The children, they do not have to


worry about at all, because they adapt very quickly to the new


culture. North-east people are just like us, very friendly, who want to


get to know a lot about Japan and they are kind in reality, if you


make friends once, this lasts for a October the 2012 and it is a red


letter day at Nissan. Once a preparation and many million pounds


spent, and today, the Nissan leaf is on the production line. These


lads have only ever bought one model on the line, so this is


something different for them. last nut and bolt is checked and


double-checked. In has, the car is getting rave reviews. It is quite a


nice car. But it is not without teething problems. What's


happening? Can use lower down and get this out? -- can you slow it


down? We have a trapped harness. You will need to get that. Put that


down as a concern, so that it does not happen again. The big test is


the battery. Get it married up to the car, and then once it is done


will say that was OK, then it drops down, and the battery is secure. It


has gone pretty well. We get it down from four an hour, to three an


hour, and then it all depends on sales from then on. So far, Nissan


has sold 55,000 worldwide, half of the 100,000 that it had hoped for.


Not everybody is going to get this technology and jump into an


electric vehicle but what we have demonstrated with the Nissan leaf


Traditionally, Japan cast the die for Nissan's 14 million global


workforce, training them at its mother plant, but now, Sunderland


are shearing and that responsibility. Sunderland as the


most reliable by Japanese people and then we ask Sunderland to take


care all those European, African and Middle East and India area, as


a global mother plant. The parent company places trust in the plant,


in terms of breeding than the San DNA into overseas plants, so it is


a further in the cap, a reward for many years of hard work. -- feather


in the cap. St Petersburg, a far cry from Wearside, but Nissan's new


factory is a carbon copy of the Sunderland plant. It was built by a


team from the north-east. It was a throwback. The Japanese guys have


been educating me. Who would have thought that a local guy would be


sitting in Russia educating people on this and construction?


English colleagues have a great help. The Russian people are very


friendly, open and honest and culturally very similar to last.


get constant support and assistance from the mother plant in Sunderland.


There are those who say that you could take all the things you've


got in Sunderland now and just dump it somewhere else, with much


cheaper labour cost economy. I do not think you can do that because


so much work has gone in and the quality is so high, that it would


be difficult to replicate that in Russia, China or India. So the 8th


new model rolls off the line in Sunderland. It is now up to Nissan


customers to decide whether its electric dreams come true. The car


has been produced behind me are the best possible rebuke to those who


say that in Britain, we cannot design things any more, we cannot


make things any more, we cannot export things any more. It is a


great pity the British car industry isn't still British owned.


course we are a Japanese company, but when a car leaves here, it is a


British car. It does make you feel proud to put these for vehicles on


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