Nissan's plant in Sunderland has been named as the UK's biggest car exporter for a fifth year running.

Figures compiled by the Society of Motor Manufacturers & Traders (SMMT) show that the plant's 2004 export total of 252,759 Micras, Almeras and Primeras was 44,500 units more than the second-largest manufacturer.

This means that over 1 in 5 cars exported during 2004 came from the Wearside factory.

Later this year the three millionth export car will roll off the production line destined for one of the 45 markets around the world where Sunderland-built vehicles are sold -as widespread as Australia, Mexico, Peru and Russia.

As well as being named the top UK car exporter, the Sunderland plant has also been the UK's biggest car producer for the last five years and the most productive car plant in Europe for seven years.

The plant is currently preparing to introduce three new models in just 16 months - the Micra C+C cabriolet this autumn, a mini-MPV based on the Tone concept next January, and a compact 4x4 crossover vehicle based on the Qashqai concept from December 2006.

Annual production volume could increase to around 400,000 units by 2007. Last year the plant produced 319,652 vehicles, an average of around 90 cars an hour.

Before the end of 2005, the plant is expected to build its four millionth vehicle since production began in 1986.