MORE than 7,000 people are employed at Nissan's North-East factory, the Japanese car maker has revealed, at the launch of an award-winning new flagship model. 

Today marks the start of full production at the manufacturer's Sunderland plant of the Nissan Qashqai, which this month was named  2014 Car of the Year by What Car? magazine. 

Last year, more than 286,000 of the 501,756 cars built by Nissan's Sunderland workers were Qashqais, now in its eighth year of production. 

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A Qashqai is built every 61 seconds on the factory’s Line 1.

The new Qashqai has a host of high tech gadgets, safety features and more space than the model it replaces.  

Nissan’s chief performance officer, Trevor Mann, said: “The Nissan Qashqai blazed a trail when we started production in 2006. It invented the Crossover segment, propelled the Nissan brand in Europe to a new level and helped our plant in Sunderland to set new standards in productivity and quality.

“The new Qashqai, with its bold design and segment-leading technology, will once again elevate Nissan to a new level, as the benchmark for the second generation of crossovers and our flagship model in Europe.”

Nissan's importance to the economy has been underlined with confirmation that the workforce at Sunderland topped 7,000 for the first time in the plant's 28-year history, supporting an estimated 40,000 jobs nationwide. 

More than one-in-three cars built in the UK is made by the Sunderland factory, Europe's largest car plant.

Prime Minister David Cameron said: “It’s great news that the new model Qashqai is rolling off the production line in Sunderland.

"Nissan supports 40,000 jobs across the UK, and when you add that to the half a billion pound investment that Nissan have made in this country for this new model, it shows how our long term plan is giving companies the confidence to invest and create jobs in Britain.”