Nissan was the largest car producer in the UK in 2003 for the fourth consecutive year.

Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) statistics show that production at the company’s Sunderland plant in north-east England accounted for one in every five cars built in the UK last year.

The 331,924 cars produced on Wearside in 2003 also set a record for the plant. The output was more than 35,000 units up on 2002 volume, and nearly 4,000 units above the previous record, set in 2000.

In a statement, Nissan said the substantial year-on-year increase was fuelled by “excellent demand” for the redesigned Micra (March), which last January replaced a model line essentially unchanged for 10 years.

Nissan also builds Primera and Almera models in Sunderland and will assembly the Micra C+C cabriolet there from autumn 2005.

In the statement, Nissan Motor Manufacturing (UK) managing director of Ltd, Colin Dodge, said: “I’d… like to pay tribute to our workforce in adapting so well to changing market demand,” but, unsurprisingly, did not mention a dispute that occurred at the plant, normally a model of good industrial relations, towards the end of 2003 when purchasing staff protested at plans to move them about 200 miles south to Nissan’s research and development facility at Cranfield.

There was also a dispute with the trade union AMICUS early in the year over the way 60 production staff redundancies were announced.

“Manufacturing flexibility is something that is becoming increasingly important within the automotive industry. Our performance in 2003, in doubling Micra production year-on-year, proves that we are well-equipped to meet similar challenges in the years ahead,” Dodge added.