NISSAN’S Sunderland plant made more than one third of the cars produced in the country last year as it once again smashed all records to become the first UK automobile plant to have produced more than half a million cars in a year.

The Japanese manufacturer’s Wearside factory, which employs 6,225 people making the Juke, Note and Qashqai models, produced 510,572 cars in 2012, exporting about 400,000 of these and smashing all previous records of UK car production.

The figure represents a significant proportion of all cars produced in the UK last year – 34.8 per cent of the 1.46 million manufactured here – and is almost double the number produced by the next largest competitor, Landrover in Solihull and Heywood.

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For the UK as a whole, the annual car manufacturing figures, released today by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), made largely positive reading, with production up 9 per cent from 1.34m in 2011.

This figure is the highest since 2007 – the year before the recession hit – and the data also showed the UK exported the largest number of cars in the country’s history, with 1.21 million sold overseas, representing a 7.8 per cent upsurge on 2011.

Less positive was commercial vehicle production, which declined on 2011 by 6.8 per cent to 112,039, and engine production, which fell slightly by 0.3 per cent to just under 2.5 million.

SMMT chief executive Paul Everitt said: "2012 was a very good year for UK car production with record levels of exports and volumes at their highest since 2008.

"The outlook for 2013 remains positive with demand in many faster-growing global markets offsetting the continued weakness in European economies.

"The £6bn of investment committed to UK facilities, new model programmes and research and development signals a bright future and many new opportunities for companies in the supply chain.

"These remain extremely challenging times and it is essential industry and Government continue to work together to secure long-term industrial growth."

Business Secretary Vince Cable said: "The UK is achieving success by making products that are in demand across the world. We have a diverse and innovative automotive sector with some of the most productive plants in the world and a flexible, skilled and committed workforce.

"There is no room for complacency and to build on this competitive advantage we are working jointly with the auto sector on a long-term industrial strategy."

The future looks bright for Nissan’s Sunderland plant, with the factory set to recruit again after winning contracts to make four new models – the new Qashqai, electric vehicle Leaf, a car based on the Invitation concept and luxury hatchback Infiniti.

Kevin Fitzpatrick, Nissan Vice President for Manufacturing in the UK, said: “Last year was a record year for the plant, on the back of very high demand for Qashqai and Juke.

"We made 510,000 cars, employment went over 6,000 for the first time and the total exports from the plant now exceed £5m.

“We’re doing very well in the market because we’ve got strong products and a wide product range. Customers are going into our dealers, sales are going well and we are gaining market share.”