Nissan casting plant faces power struggle
RISING power prices could threaten an ambitious plan to develop Australia's last factory-backed automotive component plant as a hub for electric vehicle components..
The Nissan Casting Australia Plant celebrated its 35th anniversary last month by announcing contracts out to 2025 to supply die-cast aluminium parts for the next-generation of electric and hybrid vehicles, including the Nissan Leaf.
Plant managing director Peter Jones says power prices - the plant uses gas to liquefy the alloy to 700 degrees and the massive casting machines run on electricity - have doubled in the past 12 months, creating a "challenging" environment for the niche operation.
"At the end of the day we melt aluminium to make parts, so power is our biggest cost," Jones says.
"We have a history of adapting to changing circumstances - this is just one of them."
The price rises come at a pivotal time for the Melbourne-based plant, which is gaining a global reputation in the Nissan-Renault alliance for the quality of its aluminium componentry and the speed with which it can design and engineer a part.
"We're trying to position the plant as the "mother-room" for electric vehicle component supply and we're uniquely qualified to do that because of the skill of our workforce and the quality of our products," Jones notes.
"We're already an orphan plant: everything we make has to be put on a boat or a plane (before it can be fitted to a car) ... and that instantly affects our competitiveness.
"Offsetting that is we're the only plant outside of Japan with an engineering capability in terms of parts design and we can do short runs (of parts) to a very high standard with very little lead time."
The plant employs almost 200 staff and uses 52 robots to make around 2.6 million die-cast components each year, generating export revenue of around $82.5 million.
Each of those parts carries an embossed kangaroo logo showing it was made Down Under. That logo can be found on everything from the manual transmission case on a Nissan Navara to the stator housing on the Leaf.