The first new Primera rolled off Nissan Motor Manufacturing UK's production line in north-east England yesterday.

The first car, a grey, 1.8-litre, left-hand drive, four-door saloon is destined for Italy, where a buyer will take delivery on 1 March 2002.

Preparations for the new car's production began two years ago. Since then, £215 million has been invested in the new Primera with £104 million going into new and improved facilities at the factory. This brings Nissan's total investment in the Sunderland plant to £1.8 billion.

NMMUK managing director John Cushnaghan, said: "This is an exciting time for Nissan, in less than six weeks we will be up to full production, which is a record for Nissan in Europe.

Since it replaced the Bluebird in 1990, more than 1,189,000 Primeras have been built at Sunderland. Exports are expected to account for about 80 percent of the new model's 120,000-unit annual production, with most going to Europe.