Publication date: 28 May 2024
Visit Nissan factory

Visit Nissan factory

How is a Qashqai built?

Miscellaneous - Big news from the Nissan factory in Sunderland: the revamped Qashqai has gone into production! But... why doesn't this Japanese manufacturer build the cars in Japan? And how is a Qashqai actually built? Autozine visited the factory in search of the answers.

Japanese cars are known for their good quality and high reliability. However, they are also known for long delivery times. If parts are ever needed, it can take a long time for them to reach Europe from the factory in Japan. Not only that: it is expensive to ship cars and parts halfway around the world!

Visit Nissan factory

This is way Nissan decided to open a factory in Europe in the late 1980s. That way, the manufacturer could deliver faster and save significantly on transportation costs. Besides: it would bring the brand closer to the market and thus be more responsive to European customer needs. Sunderland in the north of England was chosen as the location because there were many unemployed yet capable people and plenty of land available there. In 1986, "Nissan Motor Manufacturing UK Ltd" tentatively began assembling Bluebirds that were delivered as kits from Japan.

Then the factory expanded rapidly and now only the origin is Japanese. Raw materials and parts are bought in Europe as much as possible. The Qashqai was even designed in Europe for the European market. Yet the survival of the Sunderland plant was uncertain in 2020 because of the Brexit. Only because negotiations with Britain and Europe turned out in its favour did the plant not move to mainland Europe.

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From steel to chassis

The production process starts with large rolls of steel and aluminium. From these, a basic shape is cut (all residual material is recycled), then a machine the size of a building presses it into shape into a chassis, doors, a bonnet and more. And here it immediately becomes clear what is involved in revamping a model. If the bodywork is different for a new model year, new dies for the press are needed and that requires a big investment. Moreover, the old dies have to be kept for at least 10 years to keep spare parts.

Visit Nissan factory

In another hall, 1,052 robots weld and glue the sheet metal together, after which the shape of a car is recognisable for the first time. The Qashqai consists of 41 sheet metal parts, 20 of which are aluminium, saving some 60 kg. Although it takes a lot of energy to produce aluminium, the process of cutting and pressing is almost the same as for other metals. However, aluminium is recycled even more carefully because of its high value.

Visit Nissan factory

The next step provides an anti-corrosion coating, soundproofing, as well as coloured and protective paint. Autozine has visited many car factories, but Nissan Sunderland is the first to allow guests, albeit after dressing up and walking through the "air shower", into the paint shop. Here, it is fascinating to see how the car attracts the paint because the metal of the car is charged. This saves a lot of paint and the paint is applied evenly. The first layers are applied wet on top of each other. The spraying is done entirely by robots. The man in the spray booth is only there to check the robots' work and correct it if necessary. In the process, he tapes cars if they go through the process twice because, for example, the roof is painted in a contrasting colour.

Electronics and mechanics

As soon as the paint has dried sufficiently, a start is made on upholstering the cabin. The dashboard is supplied by partner Marelli, which has its own people on the shop floor. Cable harnesses are heated slightly in an oven next to the assembly line to make them more pliable and thus easier to install. The doors get their trim and electronics at this stage, but are not yet connected as they would get in the way during the next steps. They therefore follow the car on a separate line.

Visit Nissan factory

During the visit, only the Qashqai and Juke were being manufactured in Sunderland. However, the plant is getting ready for the future in which it builds only electric cars. Therefore, an in-house battery factory has been set up and the production line has been modified. The battery factory shows how the introduction of a new or updated model is used to modernise the production process as well. For example, the batteries of hybrids are already made with tools that know where they are. On a monitor, an employee sees exactly where in the battery pack which operation needs to be performed. Digital images of the process are stored, so that even years later it is possible to check whether the battery was assembled correctly. The Autozine editor was also allowed to try assembling a (dummy) battery and can confirm: this part of the production cannot go wrong!

Although the Qashqai and Juke skip this step, the visit showed how a lift was built that attaches batteries to the chassis from below (in hybrids, the battery rests right on the bodywork).

Visit Nissan factory

Cars with petrol, hybrid and electric engines are built interchangeably. In the next step, the vehicles are fitted their mechanics. On an automatic moving cart, the engine, gearbox (if applicable) and suspension are delivered ready-to-go. On a long conveyor belt, these are then all attached. While welding and painting are almost entirely automated, Nissan actually opts for manpower at this stage. In the final step, the cars are supplied with (brake) oil, coolant and wheels.

Cars with a petrol engine are given 6 litres of fuel and (partially) electric cars are charged for the first time. Now, an intensive inspection awaits every new vehicle! Every car is checked at 975 points. If something is not compliant, it can be fixed directly on the shop floor. All cars then go onto a 1 mile long test track. Randomly, some are selected to take an extra-long test route. The cars that pass all inspections are stored at a central site. There, they stand for an average of just 4 hours until they are picked up to be delivered; coincidentally, also the time it takes to produce a Qashqai!

Visit Nissan factory

Only 20% of the cars stay in the UK, the rest is exported. It is unfortunately not possible to collect a newly bought car from the factory yourself. However, the factory does offer tours for anyone who wants them (after an appointment via the website). The main lesson Autozine learned during the visit: compared to other factories, Nissan Sunderland is the most open to visitors. This is not only very welcoming, but it also gives confidence in the process and thus in the final product.


The Japanese brand Nissan builds cars in Europe because it reduces transport costs and shortens delivery times. Sunderland was chosen in the late 1980s because of the availability of staff and land. Today, the plant employs 6,000 people directly and another 30,000 indirectly (suppliers, recycling, etc.).

A visit to this factory reveals that the Nissan Qashqai is not built in a different way from other cars. The steps are the same as with other brands. However, Sunderland once started out as a copy of a Japanese factory and, thanks to the input of European workers, has grown into a unique blend. The factory does not opt for lots of people or lots of robots, but for an optimal mix.

Because the Qashqai has been built in Sunderland for years, it might seem simple to put the updated version into production. However, new sheet metal requires new dies and a lot is asked of suppliers because of new electronics. Much more interesting, however, is to see how the plant is being modified to build only electric cars in the future. A completely new hall has been built to produce batteries. When assembling the batteries, man and machine work together to avoid mistakes while remaining flexible. The production line is adapted to then lift the batteries into the cars. In short: there is a lot involved in producing a renewed model!