Electric Dreams


Electric Dreams

A look at whether Nissan's latest all-electric vehicle will continue the company's extraordinary success.


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Transcript


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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production records at its Sunderland plant, when the 7

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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is absolutely rigid with misinformation and preconceptions?

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

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

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

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

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

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Unemployment in Sunderland specifically was growing rather

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

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John Bridge was working for the Northern Development Company when

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

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

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

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

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

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But Britain's poor record of industrial relations, particularly

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in carmaking, was putting off foreign investors. There were

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

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

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

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their operations or even leaving completely. They had major concerns

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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dazzled at all of this contradictory information and to

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

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

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and winks from the construction industry which spreads obviously

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over the whole kingdom about where industrial relations and worker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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comrades protested against Nissan. They had little placards made

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Three decades on, Nissan is ploughing millions into another

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

:11:27.:11:37.
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working hours, because then they could be infiltrated by outsiders.

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

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

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

:11:57.:12:07.
:12:07.:12:08.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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believe the employees are determined to demonstrate that

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

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

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

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chassis section. This was responsible for basically, the

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

:14:16.:14:26.
:14:26.:14:27.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

:15:16.:15:26.
:15:26.:15:29.

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

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

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

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

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

:15:54.:16:04.
:16:04.:16:15.

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

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has not always won universal approval. The first model produced

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

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

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

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assembling imported parts, the sun ploughed millions into the factory

:16:43.:16:50.

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

:16:50.:16:55.

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

:16:55.:17:01.

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

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

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

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

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

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Renault made a significant cash injection into the company. Renault

:17:34.:17:39.

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

:17:39.:17:47.

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

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

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

:17:57.:18:01.

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

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

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

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particularly the employees and their families who are obviously

:18:17.:18:23.

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

:18:23.:18:27.

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

:18:27.:18:32.

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

:18:32.:18:37.

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

:18:37.:18:42.

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

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

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

:18:53.:18:58.

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

:18:58.:19:02.

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

:19:02.:19:09.

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

:19:09.:19:14.

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

:19:14.:19:19.

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

:19:19.:19:23.

embedded in the manufacturing. is the point rubber cockpit modules

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

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

:19:37.:19:42.

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

:19:42.:19:50.

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

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

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

:19:59.:20:04.

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

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

:20:10.:20:14.

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

:20:14.:20:19.

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

:20:19.:20:24.

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

:20:24.:20:28.

differences between soldiers and civilians. Civilians say no, which

:20:28.:20:34.

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

:20:34.:20:37.

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

:20:37.:20:44.

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

:20:44.:20:49.

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

:20:49.:20:56.

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

:20:56.:21:00.

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

:21:00.:21:10.
:21:10.:21:20.

Over the years, hundreds of Japanese families have been coming

:21:20.:21:24.

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

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

:21:31.:21:41.
:21:41.:21:41.

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

:21:41.:21:51.
:21:51.:21:54.

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

:21:54.:21:58.

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

:21:58.:22:06.

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

:22:06.:22:16.
:22:16.:22:22.

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

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

:22:31.:22:37.

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

:22:37.:22:41.

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

:22:41.:22:47.

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

:22:47.:22:54.

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

:22:54.:23:04.
:23:04.:23:07.

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

:23:07.:23:14.

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

:23:14.:23:19.

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

:23:19.:23:23.

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

:23:23.:23:27.

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

:23:27.:23:34.

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

:23:34.:23:44.
:23:44.:23:50.

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

:23:50.:23:59.

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

:23:59.:24:07.

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

:24:07.:24:13.

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

:24:13.:24:20.

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

:24:20.:24:25.

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

:24:25.:24:35.
:24:35.:24:36.

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

:24:36.:24:42.

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

:24:42.:24:50.

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

:24:51.:24:55.

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

:24:55.:24:59.

electric vehicle but what we have demonstrated with the Nissan leaf

:24:59.:25:09.
:25:09.:25:43.

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

:25:43.:25:48.

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

:25:48.:25:51.

are shearing and that responsibility. Sunderland as the

:25:51.:26:00.

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

:26:00.:26:05.

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

:26:05.:26:13.

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

:26:13.:26:18.

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

:26:18.:26:27.

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

:26:27.:26:37.

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

:26:37.:26:43.

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

:26:43.:26:48.

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

:26:48.:26:52.

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

:26:52.:26:58.

sitting in Russia educating people on this and construction?

:26:58.:27:01.

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

:27:01.:27:08.

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

:27:08.:27:14.

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

:27:14.:27:18.

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

:27:18.:27:22.

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

:27:22.:27:26.

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

:27:26.:27:31.

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

:27:31.:27:40.

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

:27:40.:27:44.

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

:27:44.:27:49.

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

:27:49.:27:52.

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

:27:53.:27:58.

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

:27:58.:28:03.

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

:28:03.:28:09.

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

:28:09.:28:15.

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

:28:15.:28:19.

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

:28:19.:28:25.

This year, the seven millionth car rolled off Nissan's UK production line. But will its latest all electric vehicle puncture the extraordinary success story of the company which is now the bedrock of the North East's economy?