A CAR maker has started work on a refreshed model but remains some way off beginning production of next generation vehicles, The Northern Echo can reveal.

Nissan’s latest Qashqai is now rolling off its Sunderland factory’s production lines.

However, a source last night told the Echo that the firm is still some distance away from starting on new Qashqai and X-Trail models, which were unveiled to much fanfare in a post-Brexit announcement last year.

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Confirmation came after the business yesterday played down Japanese reports it aims to boost Wearside production by 20 per cent and double its UK parts supplier base in a £141m expansion to offset higher costs following the EU vote.

The reports, released as Prime Minister Theresa May heads for Japanese trade talks and Minister for public diplomacy at the Japanese embassy Shinichi Iida admitted businesses operating in the UK are “concerned” with the Brexit process, also claim the firm will increase electric vehicle work and take production to around 600,000 vehicles a year at its near 7,000-strong job North-East factory as it gears up to begin work on the new Qashqai and X-Trail models.

The company’s Wearside factory oversaw work on 507,430 vehicles last year – which represented the second highest number in the plant’s 30-year history.

However, a source told the Echo that the Japanese figures do not reflect any new information released by Nissan on production targets or supply chain ambitions.

Instead, he said the company is pushing on with work to introduce a facelifted Qashqai to the market.

Nissan’s future plans for its Wearside plant have been the subject of great speculation ever since the EU referendum, with bosses previously warning the Government that production could hinge on a Downing Street compensation package for any export tariffs and financial hardship caused by Brexit.

Officials subsequently revealed fresh investment for its North- East base, confirming the next generation Qashqai and X-Trail vehicles will be built at Sunderland, though they have since hinted the plant will come under the microscope again once Britain’s EU relationship is finalised.

They have also denied claims of a so-called sweetheart deal from ministers to protect the business from post-Brexit costs.

It will be the first time the 4x4 XTrail, tagged by industry experts as the Qashqai’s larger sibling, has been built for European markets outside Japan.

Earlier this month, Nissan revealed it was selling a battery division known for powering North- East vehicles, but said hundreds of jobs will remain secure in the region.

The firm has reached an agreement to offload electric battery operations and production facilities to private investment fund GSR Capital.

The sale covers manufacturing operations at Sunderland, where around 300 workers oversee operations on rechargeable batteries used to power the Wearside-made all-electric Leaf hatchback.

Work on the Leaf at Sunderland is complemented by production of the Qashqai and the Juke hatchback.

The company has also extended its plant to accommodate manufacturing on the luxury Infiniti Q30 and QX30 models, which represent the first time vehicles have been exported from Wearside to the US and China.