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One North East – leadership in low carbon vehicles

The UK’s first Low-Carbon Economic Area for Ultra-Low Carbon Vehicles is in the North East, so what does this mean, and how did this region make this happen?

The North East region has a large number of automotive companies and related suppliers, including Caterpillar, Komatsu and Cummins, but probably the best known of these is Nissan.

Led by the regional development agency, One North East, the area has seen an opportunity in low carbon vehicles and it has made things happen in a very short timescale – just two years in fact.

To demonstrate the impressive results from One North East’s work, one of the most significant items of recent news for the region was the announcement that the electric Nissan LEAF will be built at Nissan’s Sunderland plant from 2013.

Not only will the car be built in the North East, but its advanced lithium-ion batteries will also be manufactured there. Just this week the construction of the battery plant started. Toshiyuki Shiga, chief operating officer of Nissan Motor Co. Ltd., carried out the groundbreaking ceremony at Nissan’s Sunderland car plant to mark the beginning of the £210-million project.

The production of the LEAF and the batteries represents a total investment of more than £420 million in the Sunderland Plant and is expected to maintain about 2,250 jobs at Nissan and across the UK supply chain.

As if all this wasn’t enough, One North East has also taken the unprecedented step of taking over Nissan’s test track, to use as a communal, open access resource for the developing cluster of local low carbon automotive companies. This will also be used to trial different types of recharging systems.

The track is within the Turbine business park, an area of land sold by Nissan. Linked with this is the National Low-Carbon Vehicle Research and Development Centre, which aims to encourage industry and universities to work together in the area of low carbon technologies.

And there’s more in the area of skills – Sunderland is the UK’s first University to offer a MSc degree course in low carbon vehicles. And in just the last few weeks there has also been an announcement about the go-ahead for an £8.4m green collar ‘National Training Centre for Sustainable Manufacturing’. This will cover manufacturing, servicing and maintenance of low carbon vehicles, and is due to open in early 2011.

Next on the list is the development of a recharging infrastructure for electric cars. The region bid for, and was successful in being one of three areas in the UK to win, the government’s Plugged-in Places programme to fund electric car charging points.

One of the next goals is to encourage more suppliers to the area. Linked with this are plans to re-establish rail links from the manufacturing site to the deepwater ports in the North East.

The low carbon theme extends beyond the cars themselves, as the site has a collection of wind turbines generating renewable energy. There are also plans to develop intelligent energy and digital networks.

All these initiatives add up to a hugely significant investment for the local economy, running into many hundreds of millions of pounds.

Why did One North East do all this? The automotive sector in the region was highly important, with 260 companies, and 28,000 people employed directly, all worth £1 billion to the local economy. One North East asked the question “What can we do to get more new models built here?” Applying some thought and foresight resulted in the answer being to focus on areas such as ensuring the right skills base, research and development facilities and infrastructure existed to attract manufacturers and their low carbon plans.

It seems that One North East’s secret weapon has been having a team from industry that has shown leadership, had a clear vision, and has been determined and proactive to make that vision a reality. Of course, One North East has worked with a wide range of partners to make all this happen.

One North East is not able to make any comments that may be construed as political in the run-up to an election, but Green-Car-Guide can. It may well be the case that by some, money is perceived to be wasted within the overall regional development agency system. However One North East shows that such an organisation can take action and make a real difference in the area of investment, in such an important sector as the low carbon economy.

Keywords: Regional Development Agency One North East, the UK’s first Low-Carbon Economic Area for Ultra-Low Carbon Vehicles, Nissan Sunderland Plant, lithium-ion battery plant, Nissan LEAF electric vehicle