NISSAN has officially started making a next generation electric vehicle in the North-East.

The car maker’s new Leaf hatchback is now rolling off the production lines at its Sunderland plant.

Customers are expected to pick up the first models of the all-electric hatchback in February.

The firm revealed in September that its near 7,000-strong job Wearside factory would make the refreshed Leaf, with the site wellversed in making previous examples for the European market.

Bosses say the new Leaf can travel for longer, includes auto-parking technology and uses a one-pedal system aimed at helping motorists drive and brake seamlessly.

The Leaf was launched in 2011 and revised in 2013 when production started in the North-East, with a model of the car becoming the nine millionth vehicle to be made on the manufacturer’s Wearside lines since its factory’s 1986 opening.

Kevin Fitzpatrick, Nissan’s European divisional vice-president for manufacturing, said the plant’s success in securing the Leaf’s latest overhaul was a real coup and a pat on the back for its workforce.

He added: “We led the way in introducing electric vehicles to Europe in 2011, and every year since then it’s been clear that more customers share our vision for the future of driving.

“We’re excited to start production in Sunderland and to bring the new Leaf to European markets.”

Nissan’s Wearside plant also makes the Qashqai, Juke and Infiniti Q30 and QX30 models, while officials previously revealed it had been chosen as a base to bring a new Qashqai and sister X-Trail vehicle to market.

The business had hinted future Qashqai production could hinge on a Downing Street EU compensation package for any export tariffs and financial hardship caused by Brexit.

However, the company rowed back following Government talks, which critics said was a result of a sweetheart deal, though officials have since said they will review the Wearside plant once the workings of a Brexit deal are finalised.

It is understood work on the new Qashqai could start in 2018, while it will be the first time the 4x4 XTrail has been built for European markets outside of Japan.