Nissan's Sunderland plant in north-east England on Friday will begin shipping one of its models 'back' to Japan for the first time in over a decade.

The Qashqai, re-named Dualis for the Japanese market, went into production at Sunderland in December last year, and already more than 20,000 have been made.

The last Sunderland-built car to be exported to Japan was the 1996 model Primera.

Neil Calvert, who works on the plant's Qashqai trim and chassis line said: "It's been a long time since we shipped our cars back to Japan, so I'm pleased [it's] on its way.

"When our plant began building cars in 1986, we were assembling Bluebirds sent from Japan in kit form. So, sending one of our cars back there shows how far we've come."

Japanese buyers will be offered two or four-wheel drive with a two-litre petrol engine. European market models also get 1.6 petrol and 1.5- and two-litre diesel engine choices.

All Japanese versions will have Nissan's continuous variable transmission (CVT) automatic gearbox. The Japanese automaker was a pioneer with this type of transmission in the European D-segment with its previous Primera models (the Qashsqai effectively replaces the old Almera in the C-segment here).

As well providing computer controlled 'stepless' gear shifts, vehicles with CVT have lower exhaust emissions and better fuel economy than the manual, Nissan said.

The Japanese cars will also have an overtaking mirror (to comply with local laws) and will be fitted with the latest 'Carwings' navigation and telematics system.

The Qashqai is Sunderland's 10th new model since 1986, represents an investment of GBP223m and takes total investment in the UK factory to over GBP2.3bn.

Trevor Mann, Nissan's UK manufacturing chief said: "We export our cars to more than 45 countries around the world, but there is definitely something special about shipping to Japan.

"I'm very confident the Qashqai has what it takes to compete in what is an extremely demanding market."