LONDON -- Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn today said he was confident the U.K. would remain a competitive place to do business after meeting with Prime Minister Theresa May. Ghosn had earlier warned that the Japanese automaker could halt investment in its British car plant after the country's Brexit vote.
"Following our productive meeting, I am confident the government will continue to ensure the U.K. remains a competitive place to do business," Ghosn said.
The U.K. will begin official divorce talks with the European Union by the end of next March. May said she wanted to continue to back the country's car industry. "This government is committed to creating and supporting the right conditions for the automotive industry to go from strength to strength in the U.K., now and into the future," she added in a statement.
Ghosn said at the Paris auto show last month that future investment Nissan's car plant in Sunderland, northern England, would depend on a guarantee of compensation if the U.K.'s eventual deal with Europe led to tariffs on car exports.
The factory is U.K.'s biggest with annual production of just over 500,000, just under a third of Britain's 1.6 million car output last year. The plant produces the Nissan Qashqai, Note and Leaf models and Infiniti QX and QX30, according to Automotive News Europe's Guide to European Assembly Plants.
Nissan faces a decision in early 2017 on where to build its next Qashqai SUV, prompting Ghosn's meeting with May. The current Qashqai went on sale in 2014. At the Paris show Nissan Chief Performance Officer Trevor Mann declined to give assurances that the Juke subcompact SUV, which is due for renewal in 2018, will continue to be built in Sunderland.
Businesses have been concerned that the U.K. is headed towards a "hard Brexit," which would leave it outside the EU single market and facing tariffs of up to 10 percent on car exports.
Ghosn's concerns led other automakers to warn about the consequences of a hard Brexit, favored by some Conservatives who wish to impose limits on immigration, a key concern of many voters who backed Brexit.
The CEO of the U.K.'s biggest automaker Jaguar Land Rover, Ralph Speth, told Reuters that any Brexit deal would have to guarantee a "level playing field," opening up the possibility that others too would seek financial guarantees.
In September, when asked for a response to Ghosn's comments, a spokeswoman said the government would not give a running commentary of different opinions about Brexit. But in a speech to the Conservative Party this month, May said the government would do everything it could to encourage, develop and support strategic sectors of the economy such as car manufacturing, financial services and aerospace.
Britain's car industry was a strong supporter of continued membership of the European Union ahead of the June 23 vote, benefiting from unfettered access to the world's biggest trading bloc and its standardized regulations.
In addition to Nissan and Jaguar Land Rover, Toyota and Honda build cars in the U.K., along with BMW Group's Mini and Rolls-Royce brands, Volkswagen Group's Bentley, and General Motor’s Vauxhall unit.
Automotive News Europe contributed to this report.