On May 29th, 2020, Japanese automaker Nissan officially announced the long expected decision to shut down its three plants in the province of Barcelona in December. 25,000 jobs and 500 suppliers are expected to be directly or indirectly affected by the closing of the locations in the free zone next to the port, as well in Montcada i Reixac and Sant Andreu de la Barca. The company’s other plants in Ávila and Cantabria, which have no direct ties to Barcelona, will not be affected.
Hundreds of workers, which had been on indefinite strike since May 4th in protest of a perceived lack of concrete information about their future, soon blocked roads and burned tires. In 2019, manufacturing was down to 25% of its capacity after several models were pulled, which in December of last year had resulted in 600 early retirements. During the initial stages of the pandemic-related lockdown in Spain, when demonstrations were banned, the economic situation worsened further. Activity never resumed, expect for the pick-up production line until the end of this month.
Not only Spain’s Industry Ministry, but also regional politicians reacted fast: Àngels Chacón, Minister of Business and Knowledge in Catalonia, on May 30th accused the multinational of deception, contempt and disloyalty. She stated that nationalization should be considered, although the concept needed to be discussed with Socialist Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, because Catalonia currently has no budget for it.
Meritxell Budó, Department Secretary of the Presidency and Government Spokeswoman, stated that it won’t be easy at all for Nissan to leave and very costly. “We will show them that they are wrong”. Being aware of the fact that the automotive industry contributes around 10 % to its GDP, at least she didn’t seem to support the idea of a take-over.
Vice President and Minister of Economy and Finance, Pere Aragones, thinks that there’s no turning back. He pointed out that the company had indeed received 25 million euros in subsidies in the past, but only while it was still investing and not during the last two years. However, Aragones didn’t exclude the possibility to ask for a partial return part of the money should any irregularities be discovered. He is as well considering to stop the funding companies and instead opt for direct investment in those to assure certain decision-making rights for the regional authorities.
It is estimated that the closing would cost the company one billion euros in compensation for laid-off workers and suppliers whose contracts will not be honored, as well as clean-up costs at the site.
The central government and the city of Barcelona earlier this year had presented plans for a new electric vehicle at the headquarters in Yokohama, but there was no immediate response. At the end, Nissan Europe chairman Gianluca de Ficchy commented that, after examining the different options, “we believe there is no viable possibility for the future.”
The Japanese need to cut its global production capacity by 20% until 2023 to around 5.4 million vehicles annually due to net losses in the last fiscal year. They plan to leave the EU market to its partner Renault, while focusing on Japan, China and North America. After the United Kingdom left the common market on January 31st, 2020 the factory in Sunderland will become the hub for core models for the rest of Europe.
After a meeting with top executives at the Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum in the Swiss ski resort of Davos, on January 23nd, Sánchez had posted on social media that the car-related jobs in Catalonia were secure. At the end, that turned out to be just another empty promise, if it wasn’t an outright lie from the beginning.
On April 22nd, Barcelona mayor Ada Colau’s left hand Janet Sanz, in charge of Environmental Protection, Urbanism, Infrastructure and Mobility, had railed against the automobile sector. During a virtual forum she proposed to take the chance that the coronavirus crisis offers to finish it off. “It’s now or never. We have to prevent that all of this resumes”. She should be very happy now…