Nissan deals fresh blow to UK by pulling Infiniti from Europe

The Infiniti QX30. Infiniti’s retreat from Europe marks an end to an 11-year effort to establish the brand in one of the world’s most competitive markets for luxury cars. (Bloomberg pic)

LONDON: Nissan Motor will stop production of its upscale Infiniti models in the UK as part of a plan to withdraw the brand from Western Europe and focus on North America and China.

Production of the Q30 sedan and QX30 crossover models will cease by July at Nissan’s Sunderland plant in northeast England, the Japanese carmaker said Tuesday.

It’s the second blow within weeks for the UK’s biggest car plant, after Nissan abandoned a plan to make the X-Trail sport utility vehicle there, citing uncertainty over Brexit as a factor.

“In anticipation of its planned withdrawal from Western Europe in early 2020, the company is working to find alternative opportunities for any employees who would be affected,” Infiniti said in a statement.

Operations in Eastern Europe, Middle East and Asia won’t be affected.

Infiniti’s retreat from Europe marks an end to an 11-year effort to establish the brand in one of the world’s most competitive markets for luxury cars and the home of premium marques including Volkswagen’s Audi, Daimler’s Mercedes-Benz and BMW’s namesake brand.

Last year, Nissan’s deliveries of Infiniti vehicles plunged 34% to just 10,958 units.

That compares with Audi’s 2018 total of 700,674 vehicles, BMW’s 778,343 and Mercedes’ 838,358 in the European Union, according to the European Automobile Manufacturers Association.

Even Japanese rival Toyota Motor’s Lexus sold 44,961 vehicles in EU countries last year, up 2.7% from 2017.

Sunderland made about 12,000 Infinitis last year, a sliver of its more than 442,000 total units produced. The two British-made subcompact models will disappear from the brand’s lineup globally, a spokesman said.

Nissan will electrify its luxury division’s portfolio from 2021 onward and discontinue diesel offerings to focus on its SUV lineup in North America and unveil five new models in China.

Car companies are streamlining their portfolios and production sites among growing global pressures, including trade wars, the costly shift to electric cars and weakening markets.

The UK has been particularly hard-hit with Brexit adding another drag.

Honda Motor announced last month it’ll shut its plant in the UK, while Jaguar Land Rover is cutting about 4,500 jobs, most of them in Britain.

Nissan’s Sunderland plant employs more than 7,000 people, and 250 of them are focused on the Infiniti models, a spokesman said.

“The company will place more focus on its SUV lineup in North America, bring five new vehicles to China over the next five years, work to improve quality of sales and residual value, and realise more synergies with Nissan Motor Company,” Infiniti said.