March 28 - As the first fully-electric Nissan Leaf rolls off the production line in Sunderland, Joanna Partridge finds out why car manufacturing is returning to the UK, and asks whether electric vehicles are the key to turning around sagging European car sales.
Switching on electric car manufacturing in the UK. The first fully-electric Nissan Leaf vehicle rolls off the production line in Sunderland, with British Prime Minister David Cameron as its first passenger. Nissan says the car - aimed at the European market - has longer range and is quicker to charge. The Japanese automaker has invested £420 million in the UK preparing the factory and setting up a new battery plant, says Andy Palmer, Executive Vice President of Nissan. SOUNDBITE: Andy Palmer, Executive Vice President, Nissan, saying (English): "Our new battery plant has taken the European car industry into unchartered waters. We've learned how to integrate an electric vehicle production onto the same line as our most popular car, the Qashqai." UK car manufacturing is seeing a resurgence. A record number of cars were made in Britain in 2012, partly thanks to government incentives. The government also recently announced a £37 million investment to improve the country's charging network, to convince drivers to go electric and silence critics who say there aren't enough charging points. David Cameron says Britain is now a net exporter of cars. SOUNDBITE: British Prime Minister David Cameron, saying (English): "The cars being produced behind me are the best possible rebuke to those who say that in Britain we can't design things anymore, we can't make things any more, we can't export things any more. The British car industry I think has shown incredible resilience and indeed growth over a difficult period." Car makers like Nissan are banking on electric vehicles to revive flagging sales. Pietro Boggia, an auto analyst at Frost and Sullivan says Nissan and other manufacturers are positioning themselves. SOUNDBITE: Pietro Boggia, Principal Consultant, Automotive and Transportation, Frost and Sullivan, saying (English): "This market will boom in the future, but what is important is to be there with the technologies that can be continuously improved, so if you are a newcomer when the market will be booming, it will be too late to take an advantage." European car sales fell last month to their lowest February level in over 20 years, as austerity bites and consumers remain cautious. Britain bucked the trend and sales rose almost 8%. Even if cars are becoming greener and more efficient, it's not clear what will drive Europeans to splash out on a new vehicle.