Automotive Purchasing Weekly 7 December 2015 - page 2

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A Publication
E. & O.E. © 2015 Three 6 Zero Limited - Automotive Purchasing
Simon Duval Smith -
Alex Kreetzer -
To Infiniti andbeyond
Nissan’s Infiniti brand has started to truly develop
its own identity through the production of its ‘active
compact’ Q30 crossover, unveiled at its extremely-
efficient Sunderland plant (UK) on December 3. I was not
sure about the design of the vehicle, until I saw it in the
flesh: the prominent ripples that flowed across the side
wings and bonnet, the powerful ‘human-eye’ headlights
and the low-stanced profile that has placed the vehicle
in its own unique segment. Nissan are not one to follow
the crowd - just look at the success of both the Leaf and
Qashqai.
The Q30 is the automaker’s first vehicle to be
manufactured in Europe, in attempt to accelerate
growth, building a new facility with a £250 million
investment shows strong commitment towards the UK -
Trevor Mann, a former factory worker in the Sunderland
plant, has seen first-hand the level of production quality
and efficiency in the UK plant. This investment is part of
Infiniti’s global growth plan, now building vehicles in five
assembly plants spread over three continents in attempt
to become a top premium global brand. The money has
been well spent; you will struggle to walk around the
25,000m2 factory floor, filled with a new automated
body shop and 134 new robots that manufacture the
charismatic Q30 body. Unfortunately, my group was too
large to have the luxury of being chauffeured around
the plant, so we embarked on our lengthy-trek. Infiniti
made the decision to build the four-cylinder crossover
in Sunderland, after identifying a strong workforce and
quality standards that well and truly met the carmaker’s
needs - Infiniti is also currently training around 4,000
staff members, on top of creating over 1,000 new jobs
in the UK automotive industry. Presently, there are 6,700
employees within the Sunderland site.
Ultimately, you need your workforce to take pride
in their role within the expanding company, in order to
channel the passion from each worker into the finished
product, and Nissan/Infiniti boast a great example of
this, with the factory’s supply chain supporting around
21,000 jobs in Sunderland and 40,000 in the UK.
Nissan Sunderland is the biggest car plant in UK history,
accounting for one in every three cars produced within
Britain. This already shows great progression, especially
as this is the first time in 23 years a new brand has been
manufactured in the UK. I believe
Infiniti are undoubtedly going in
the right direction and should be a
brand to watch in the near future.
Sam Ogle -
Poshplatformfor a
super-SUV
Looking around Bentley’s Crewe, UK, plant last week
to see the new Bentayga roll off the line, I was struck by
how platform utilisation and strategy has changed over
the last 20 years. Gone are the days when one could
clearly see and feel the parentage of a vehicle through
its ‘base’.
And the VW Group are masters of simplification; they
have cut down their major platform list to just four: The
smallest foundation, the NSF sits under the Up! and its
SEAT and Skoda stablemates and the MQB is beneath
the new Audi A3, VW Golf 7, VW Passat, and Tiguan SUV.
These will be joined by Polo, Jetta, Beetle, Touran and
Sharan, Audi A1, Q1, Q3 and TT and ultimately, all SEATs
and Skodas except the smallest ‘sub-B’ segment cars.
The bigger MSB base is front engine-rear drive and will
support the next Phaeton, if there is one…
The Bentayga uses the MLB-Evo platform that will
go on to underpin the next Continental and other
large SUVs from the Group (Touareg, Q7 and Q8) and,
allegedly, all the Porsche range.
Such is the flexibility of this base that it can
accommodate mid-engine, front-engine and the extreme
rear engine configuration of the 911. Its lightness might
seem at odds with the perceived mass of the Bentleys
(it’s some 100kg lighter than the present Panamera
platform) but the SUV certainly does not lack a feeling of
solidity. Indeed, when one looks closely at the Bentayga,
there are so many bespoke-to-Bentley features such as
housing the battery in the floor near the offside front
seat, and compromises like the massive centre tunnel
designed to add rigidity for convertible models, that it
takes a lot of extra engineering and customisation to
make it really feel like a Bentley and not something
sprung off a re-design of the existing Panamera chassis.
But it does feel special; with the MLB platform allowing
the Crewe-designed new W12 engine to be set further
back than in any similar vehicle, the frame’s stiffness
enabling an enormous panoramic glass roof and most
importantly, it’s really convincing off-road capability;
exhibiting not a trace of scuttle shake as it traverses the
most extreme terrain. One would only think about MLB
if one had seen it being built. So I must congratulate
Bentley, for using a common platform
to make such an uncommonly fine
car. W.O. would be proud.
A look at some of the current issues in the automotive industry.
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NissanSunderlandmust
continue to thrive
The Renault-Nissan Alliance formed in 1999 has turned
out to be one of the most productive of such marriages.
Their partnership is a rare example of cross-cultural
co-operation in a global industry. Together, they have
achieved billions of dollars of annual cost savings and are
on target to make 70% of their products on a common
platform by 2020.
The two partners are, however, finding their 16-year
alliance being put at risk by a French government move to
increase the voting rights it holds in its domestic carmaker
— and deny the Japanese company a say in how the
business is run. Nissan has threatened to take steps to
end Renault control by raising its own stake in the French
carmaker to at least 25% from its current 15% non-voting
share and activating voting rights.
Some industry commentators have speculated that this
squabble could put at risk the future of the UK’s largest
and most productive car plant - Nissan Sunderland.
The 500,000 vehicles produced in Sunderland each
year currently equates to around one-third of total UK
production and the plant has received many efficiency
awards since its opening in September 1986. Indeed,
speaking at last week’s launch of the Infiniti Q30,
Colin Lawther, Senior Vice President responsible for
Manufacture, Supply Chain Management and Purchasing
for Nissan Europe, described the Sunderland facility as
Nissan’s “flagship plant.”
Nissan took something of a gamble in Sunderland,
starting from nothing to build its first plant outside Japan
in a region with no experience of car manufacturing. In its
first year of production, it built only 5,139 cars. The plant
has now built more than eight million vehicles since 1986.
Sunderland is a shining example of the resurgence of the
British car industry. It has shown that UKworkers canmatch
and beat the best in the world and it has become a lifeline
for the Northeast of England, employing a 6,700-strong
workforce of ex-miners and ship builders, alongside a
generation of new, young workers who previously had
little to look forward to other than the prospect of a life
on the dole. The Sunderland factory means even more to
the local car components industry, as 60% of its tier one
suppliers are located within ten miles of the plant.
Happily, last week Lawther
firmly denied that the
Sunderland plant was at
any risk, telling reporters
not to confuse politics with
automotive production. Let’s
hope he’s right.
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