Nissan's new GBP200m battery plant in Sunderland has begun producing batteries for electric vehicles at the factory next to its Wearside car plant.

"The battery plant in the UK is now producing battery cells ahead of Leaf production starting. Module production and battery packing are scheduled to start in the coming weeks," spokeswoman Lucy Banwell told just-auto.

The UK Leaf will be launched next spring, she added.

Nissan had announced earlier the company would be producing batteries at Sunderland for its European before it announced which plant had won the race to build the European Leaf. US Leaf production and batteries began earlier this month.

News that batteries would be produced at a new plant on Wearside – with the creation of 350 jobs – came in July 2009, when then-prime minister Gordon Brown and business secretary Lord Mandelson visited the Sunderland site, the local Sunderland Echo noted.

Brown paid tribute to the hard work of the staff who had made Sunderland Europe’s most productive car factory.

He said: “You have proved, by your productivity, by your excellence, by your quality that new investment should come here.

Although securing the battery plant did not guarantee Leaf production would come to Sunderland, it did make the Wearside plant a front-runner.

Confirmation of the deal arrived in March 2010, when Nissan senior vice-president Andy Palmer announced: “Nissan Leaf will be built at Sunderland, making the UK the third country in the world to produce this revolutionary car.”

Work on the battery plant began just a month later, with the company’s global chief operating officer Toshiyuki Shiga performing the ground-breaking ceremony.

Shiga said Nissan was determined to be at the forefront of the green transport revolution, and the battery plant development would put Sunderland at the cutting edge of the new technology.

“I know we can rely on the Sunderland management team and workforce to deliver this exceptional vehicle to our customers,” he said.

“This is a big responsibility, but you have earned the trust and confidence Nissan has placed in you.”

US production has allowed Nissan US to add new paint colours, offer a black interior with leather trim option and re-specifiy trim levels, adding a new entry level version that costs less than the previous imported model.

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