AFTER reflecting on a year when production records were smashed at its Sunderland plant, Nissan issued a rallying call for manufacturers to ignore fears of recession and drive the recovery. The Japanese car maker has steadfastly defied talk of an impending recession by setting itself even tougher targets for 2012, which includes leading the electric vehicle revolution.

Production at its new lithium-ion battery plant is set to begin in the next couple of months and the Sunderland site will also begin equipping its Leaf electric car production line in Easter ahead of a February 2013 launch.

"Standing still is not an option," said Kevin Fitzpatrick, Nissans vice president for manufacturing in the UK. "There is no point us trying to second guess how any potential downturn might impact us - we are planning to be successful."

Mr Fitzpatrick admitted that the firm was struggling to keep up with demand for the Wearside-built Qashqai, which has proved to be a runaway success in Russia.

"Its the best problem I have ever had," he added. "The Qashqai has been a major success story and there are no signs of demand dropping off. We broke production records in 2012 and would like to think we can do the same this year. We are certainly equipped to do so. About 80 per cent of the vehicles are exported, so if one territory drops off we have plenty of scope across our markets to maintain steady demand," he explained. However, the latest UK manufacturing figures have led some analysts to predict the economy is on course for recession. The sector shrank less than expected in December but the modest end-of-year upturn rounded off the worst quarterly performance since 2009.

Rather than join the chorus of doommongers, Mr Fitzpatrick preferred to strike an upbeat note, believing that the recovery would be built the regions manufacturing base.

"At last manufacturing in this country feels valued again," he said. "Nissan is confident about its prospects and I believe that other employers need to show similar confidence, to be innovative and to show entrepreneurship. There is only so much that the Government can do in the current circumstances. Manufacturers are in a position to take the initiative." Nissan marked its 25th anniversary last year with a host of new UK car industry records.

The Sunderland plant made a total of 480,485 vehicles, dwarfing the 2010 total of 423,262 vehicles, which itself was the first time any UK car plant had ever made more than 400,000 cars in one year.

November was a record month for the plant with 46,606 vehicles made, the highest monthly total in the plants history.

Furthermore, extra staff were recruited at the plant to help meet the customer demand which led to Nissan achieving a record European market share of 4.2 per cent in September. The number of jobs at the plant reached an all-time high with 5,462 people directly employed on site, about 1,000 on temporary contracts.

Meanwhile Trevor Mann, Nissan senior vice president for manufacturing, purchasing and supply chain management in Europe, was awarded a CBE in the Queen’s New Year Honours List.

North East Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive, James Ramsbotham, said: "I would like to congratulate Nissan and its dedicated workforce on yet another amazing year at the Wearside plant.

"Nissan is one of the North-Easts blue chip companies. For quarter of a century it has established a reputation for excellence and continuous improvement, regularly smashing its own production records.

"The importance of Nissan to the regional economy cannot be underestimated. For every person employed by the company another four are supported in Nissans supply chain so for employment at the plant to reach a record high is another welcome achievement."