Russian automaker GAZ is trying to quash rumours that its Washwood Heath plant in Birmingham here in the UK would be closed and production of Maxus vans shifted entirely to Russia.

While the Maxus line is now being made at the GAZ plant in Nizhny Novgorod, UK production will continuefor western Europe markets.

"The cost of exporting from Russia means it makes no sense to shut the UK plant," said marketing director Guy Jones.

A major PR and marketing initiative would be made in 2009 as part of the rebranding of LDV as Maxus.

"We're going to let people know that we haven't shipped everything to Russia," he added.

Production at Washwood Heath would grow from around 11,000 vans this year to 15,000 in 2009 as LDV starts sales in new markets.

The vans are now sold in France, Spain, Benelux countries and Turkey, with Poland and the Czech Republic starting before the end of the year.

A further 10 markets will be opened next year and this will see the UK plant, for the first time, export the majority of its production - around 60% of 2009 output is scheduled for overseas sales.

As a result, around 200 new jobs have been created at Birmingham, and the plant has expanded its customisation facility, building specialist bodies on chassis-cab models.

A knocked-down kit export facility has also opened to ship vans to a new assembly plant in Malaysia.

At the Hanover commercial vehicle show last week, LDV unveiled its latest Maxus derivative - a battery-electric version powered by lithium-ion batteries mounted in packs inside the chassis frame of the chassis-cab version.

These give a range of more than 90 miles on a single four-hour charge, a top speed of 56mph and a payload of 1,446kg.

The battery packs are good for 2,000 charge cycles - so they should last five or six years. A battery leasing scheme will bring ownership costs down.

Jones said the electric Maxus was on trial with a number of fleet operators, including a major home delivery company, and was ideal for urban operations.

"One London parcel delivery firm uses its vehicles on stop-start deliveries for nine hours a day - but only covers 11 miles," he said.