A PIONEERING North-East electric car is playing an intrinsic role in the development of a new vehicle.

Nissan says key features of the Leaf hatchback, made at its Sunderland plant, are being transferred to its zero-emission e-NV200 van.

The commercial vehicle will be the Japanese firm’s second all-electric model, and will be made in Barcelona.

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Bosses say it will use the Leaf’s drivetrain and be powered by lithium-ion battery cells made at Sunderland.

More than 13,000 Leafs have been built at Nissan's North-East plant since Prime Minister David Cameron formally set the production line rolling in March last year.

The company set aside £420m to equip the factory to produce up to 50,000 of the cars every year, employing 560 workers.

Jean-Pierre Diernaz, Nissan Europe’s director of electric vehicles, lauded the van, saying it would prove important as cities adapt to emissions changes.

Mr Diernaz said: “There is change in the air.

“Europe's cities are introducing ever stringent restrictions on emissions.

“London already has a congestion charge zone based on emissions while the city's mayor is preparing for the introduction of an ultra low emission zone by 2020.

“As the growth in Leaf sales proves, this is the time of the zero-emission vehicle.

“The e-NV200 takes us into a completely different market and will help cement our position as the global leader in electric vehicle technology.”

Speaking to The Northern Echo in March, Mr Diernaz likened the Leaf to famous detective Sherlock Holmes, with the e-NV200 akin to his assistant Dr Watson.

He added: “Leaf was like Sherlock - brilliant, crazy and full of innovation - whereas you get the NV200 which, like Dr Watson, brings trust and dependability that is good for the very demanding fleet market.”

In March, Nissan shattered its Leaf sales record, with 630 UK sales.

The figure was nearly double the 332 models it sold in September, and 155 per cent higher than the 247 Leafs it sold in March last year.

Nissan also made a special edition Leaf to celebrate 100,000 global sales and the vehicle is a major success in Norway, becoming the country's third-most sold passenger car.