If you had asked someone 10 years ago to name an automaker that was leading on electric vehicles, it’s likely the person would say Nissan. If you ask the same question today, I think you’d find a different answer. Just take a look at EV sales in Europe, the US, or China to understand why. Though, Nissan may be intent on changing the story again — on the east side of the Atlantic, at least. In the UK, in particular, Nissan is pumping in a considerable chunk of coin to try to regain its leadership position.
Nissan chose Sunderland, where it already produces the LEAF, to host its “flagship Electric Vehicle (EV) Hub,” EV36Zero. Somehow, this hub launches a “360-degree solution for zero-emission motoring.” We’ll get into what that means in a moment.
Nissan, Envision AESC, and Sunderland City Council are putting £1 billion into the project to start.
Jobs, Jobs, Jobs, & Politics
Even UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is getting behind the project. “Nissan’s announcement to build its new-generation all-electric vehicle in Sunderland, alongside a new gigafactory from Envision-AESC, is a major vote of confidence in the UK and our highly-skilled workers in the North East.
“Building on over 30 years of history in the area, this is a pivotal moment in our electric vehicle revolution and securing its future for decades to come.
“Commitments like these exemplify our ability to create hundreds of green jobs and boost British industry, whilst also allowing people to travel in an affordable and sustainable way so we can eliminate our contributions to climate change.”
Clearly, someone wrote that statement for Boris. It is a good one capturing some key points for both the UK and Nissan. Naturally, after Brexit, this kind of announcement is a huge deal that requires full vocal support from Boris and his clan. The EV36Zero project is supposed to create 6,200 jobs across Nissan and supplier companies — 909 new jobs at Nissan, 750 at Envision AESC, and more or less 4,500 others. It also reportedly protects 75 Nissan R&D jobs and 300 Envision AESC jobs.
Nissan’s Next Step
“This project comes as part of Nissan’s pioneering efforts to achieve carbon neutrality throughout the entire lifecycle of our products,” Nissan President and Chief Executive Officer, Makoto Uchida said. “Our comprehensive approach includes not only the development and production of EVs, but also the use of on-board batteries as energy storage and their reuse for secondary purposes.”
So, the “360” part of things seems to be that it’s not just about electric vehicle production, but also battery production and battery reuse. So, in essence, it is similar to Tesla’s gigafactory concept.
“Nissan EV36Zero will transform the idea of what is possible for our industry and set a roadmap for the future for all,” Nissan Chief Operating Officer Ashwani Gupta added. “We reached a new frontier with the Nissan LEAF, the world’s first mass-market all-electric vehicle. Now, with our partners, Nissan will pioneer the next phase of the automotive industry as we accelerate towards full electrification and carbon neutrality.”
The new Nissan electric vehicle that will be a central focus of the fresh investments is not announced yet. More information will be coming later in the year.
#Nissan is driving towards carbon neutrality with a world-first EV manufacturing ecosystem ⚡
Announced today, Nissan 36Zero is a £1 billion flagship #EV Hub in Sunderland, UK, that will establish a new 360-degree solution for zero-emission motoring.
🖱: https://t.co/qCeehZydMl pic.twitter.com/m9QfdMS6Tb
— Nissan Motor (@NissanMotor) July 1, 2021
Don’t Forget Envision AESC
The Envision AESC side of the EV Hub is focused on low-carbon production of batteries for Nissan vehicles in a modern battery production facility. The facility “will deploy integrated AIoT smart technology to monitor and optimize energy consumption, manufacturing and maintenance at its new gigafactory, enabling it to rapidly increase production and provide batteries to power up to 100,000 Nissan electric vehicles a year.” Naturally, having the EV battery production so close to the vehicle production helps a great deal to cut down on shipping costs and emissions.
Envision AESC (formerly just AESC) actually opened the first EV battery factory in Europe when it set up shop in Sunderland back in 2012. Since then, it has produced enough EV battery cells, modules, and packs for 180,000 vehicles distributed across 44 countries. All of those batteries have gone into Nissan LEAF and Nissan eNV200 fully electric cars and vans.
“Supporting this new model allocation, Envision AESC will invest £450 million to build the UK’s first gigafactory on the International Advanced Manufacturing Park (IAMP), adjacent to the Nissan plant, powered by renewable energy and pioneering next-generation battery technology.”
The £450 million investment gets battery production capacity up to 9 GWh at this site. However, it’s possible Envision AESC will invest another £1.8 billion and get that production capacity up to 25 GWh. It’s projected that would create 4,500 “high-value green jobs” by 2030. Furthermore, production capacity could rise all the way to 35 GWh based on current estimates.
It’s not clear what would cause the plant to grow to 25 GWh or 35 GWh rather than 9 GWh, but I presume the key questions are:
- How hard will Nissan work to sell its EVs?
- How competitive will its coming EV and any future versions of the LEAF and eNV200 be?
- How well will Nissan dealers sell its EVs?
- Will Nissan launch a serious marketing effort to grow its EV brand?
- Are Envision AESC’s future batteries genuinely competitive?
“The new plant will increase the cost-competitiveness of EV batteries produced in the UK, including through a new Gen5 battery cell with 30% more energy density which improves range and efficiency,” Nissan and Envision AESC state. “This commitment will power Nissan’s new vehicles, supporting the continued localization of vehicle parts and components with advanced technology. This will make batteries cheaper and EVs more accessible to a growing number of customers in the future.”
Nissan Still ♥ UK
“I am extremely proud that Nissan has not only reaffirmed its belief in Britain, but is doubling down on its long-standing commitment to our country,” UK Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng adds. “The cars made in this plant, using batteries made just down the road at the UK’s first at scale gigafactory, will have a huge role to play as we transition away from petrol and diesel cars and kick-start a domestic electric vehicle manufacturing base.”
To date, Nissan states that it has invested more than £5 billion ($6.9 billion) into the Sunderland EV factory. Aims of this investment have included:
- R&D at Nissan’s European Technical Centre in Cranfield, Bedfordshire
- Support for UK suppliers to transition to electric vehicles
- Plant competitiveness and environmental improvements
- Skills development in the Nissan workforce for future technologies
Long before the LEAF arrived, Nissan started producing vehicles in Sunderland in July 1986. Aside from the LEAF, Nissan also produces the Qashqai and Juke (not electric vehicles) in Sunderland at the moment.
Sunderland City Council is reportedly focused on advancing a 100% renewable electricity microgrid project to power the growing cleantech facilities in its jurisdiction. 10 solar farms totalling 132 MW of power capacity could be built to support this, and there’s already a good amount of wind power in the region. It could also include a large battery using second-life Nissan EV/Envision AESC batteries, perhaps totalling 1 MW in power capacity (a MWh figure was not mentioned).
Nissan announced that it planned to grow its own use of solar power at the Sunderland plant earlier this year.
Featured image courtesy of Nissan (CC BY-NC-ND license)