The steady rise of the ‘Detroit of Russia’ continued on Tuesday as Nissan Motor announced the start of construction of its new $US200m vehicle assembly plant in St. Petersburg, which is due to open in early 2009.

The plant joins Ford, Toyota, Suzuki, GM and body-in-white specialist Stadco in the fast-growing Leningrad automotive production region.

Nissan’s Carlos Tavares, executive vice president of corporate strategy, product planning & design, called the new plant “the next significant step towards global expansion under the Nissan Value-Up plan” during a press conference to mark the occasion.

Once completed and running at full capacity, the plant will produce around 50,000 vehicles a year and employ up to 750 people from the local region. The 167.5 hectare plant, situated 25 kilometres from St Petersburg’s city centre, will consist of assembly, paint, trim and chassis lines.

Nissan announced that the two models to be built at the plant will be the Teana followed by the X-Trail – the latter crossover is also built at its UK plant in north-east England.

Nissan said its decision to open a new manufacturing plant in Russia was due to its strong sales growth over recent years in the country, where the brand has seen an increase from less than 10,000 vehicles in 2003 to more than 75,000 in 2006.

This year, Russia is expected to overtake the UK as the top volume market for Nissan in Europe for the first time.

To support this growth, Nissan also plans to triple its dealer network compared to 2004 when it began sales operations in Russia, which will take the number to around 100.