Nissan Motor on Thursday said it would expand production of its popular Qashqai/Dualis mid-size crossover to its Kyushu plant in Japan to meet high local demand and free up more capacity at its Sunderland plant in the UK for European sales.

Production of the Dualis (the Japan market name) is expected to begin in early 2008 at an eventual rate of 24,000 units a year.

A Nissan Motor Manufacturing UK spokesman said the Sunderland built plant was ramping up to 185,000 Qashqai units a year and added that Kyushu production would be solely for the Japanese market.

Sunderland-built models are sold all over Europe and are also shipped as far as Australia where the Dualis name is also used.

Nissan said global sales of the Qashqai/Dualis have outperformed initial projections since its European debut in February and launch in Japan in May. To-date, sales of Dualis in Japan have reached 9,466 units while sales in Europe of Qashqai are at 58,051 units.

Nissan said that adding capacity in Kyushu would allow Sunderland plant to better meet European demand. In June, the automaker announced a further GBP2.4million (JPY580m) investment in the Sunderland plant to increase Qashqai production.

"Together with the additional global volume in Japan, this investment will help reduce the waiting time for a new Qashqai across Europe," Nissan said.

Japan's Nikkei business newspaper last month reported that Sunderland had been working overtime and weekends to meet demand and was struggling to fill bigger-than-expected orders for the Dualis in Japan while Nissan's domestic factories had been under-utilised due to slack demand in Japan.

The model - a family-sized cross between a five-door hatchback and a small SUV offered with a wide variety of petrol and diesel engines and trim options - has replaced the Almera and Primera car lines and the five-seat Tino MPV (minivan) here in Europe.

Graeme Roberts