The decision to build Nissan’s radical battery-powered Leaf hatchback in the UK is hanging in the balance after the carmaker failed to win the contract to supply vehicles for the 2012 London Olympics.
Industry sources have told Autocar that an announcement on the production of the Leaf at Nissan's Sunderland plant would almost certainly have followed a successful Olympic bid.
Instead, the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (LOCOG) chose BMW as its automotive partner to supply more than 4000 vehicles for the Olympics.
Nissan planned to supply more than 2000 Leafs for the games and it hoped its presence would have given a boost to the uptake of electric cars and their acceptance in the UK. The presence of the Leaf would have ensured Nissan's Olympic fleet would have average CO2 emissions of 60g/km, half of the 120g/km requirement set by LOCOG.
Nissan UK’s trump card in trying to secure European Leaf production for Sunderland was the fact that it could promise to have an outlet for at least 2000 units of the car by 2012. After the games, the used Leafs would be passed onto City Hall for use in its own fleet.
“The Olympic decision would have accelerated the Leaf process in the UK,” said our source. “There would be a local urgency for the cars and a client base to satisfy and time pressure to work to.”
Our source said Sunderland remained in the running for Leaf production. However, he said plans to give the immediate go-ahead to Sunderland following a positive Olympics decision have been put on hold as there is no longer the time pressure to deliver the cars on time for the games, or the lure of a local customer base to initially supply the cars to.
Sunderland faces strong competition for Leaf production from sites across Europe, with Portugal mounting one of the stronger bids as it, like Sunderland, will be producing batteries for the Leaf.
“Sunderland is still very much involved in the Leaf bidding process,” said our source. “Nothing has been decided yet and it will still provide a very strong case, both on a business and economic level.”
The government, in particular business secretary Peter Mandelson, is believed to be keen to see the Leaf being built in the UK, but it had no involvement in the LOCOG’s decision.
Autocar contacted Mandelson's Department for Business, Innovation and Skills for a response to the news that LOCOG's decision could have undermined the government's policy on electric cars, but it declined to comment on the story.
The Nissan Leaf is expected to go into production in Japan late next year, with European production following in 2011.
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