Nissan on Thursday (28 March) officially started production of an updated Leaf EV for Europe at its Sunderland plant in north east England.

The move follows the automaker’s decision to move some Leaf production from high-cost Japan, updating the specification and adjusting pricing to suit regional preferences. Output began last January in Smyrna, Tennessee, of an updated model for North America.

Both assembly plants are supplied with Leaf battery packs from newly established adjacent factories.

Nissan’s UK plant has spent four years and spent GBP420m preparing the car and new battery plant for Leaf production and claims the project ‘supports’ 2,000 jobs in the UK car industry with 500 at the automaker itself.

The 2013 European model has over 100 updates including an increased driving range of 199km (124 miles), faster recharging and new interior colour options and materials.

Sunderland has built over 7m cars since opening to build the Stanza-based European Bluebird in 1986. In 2012 it produced 510,572 vehicles to become the first UK car factory to make over 0.5m cars a year. Staff count is 6,100.

Executive vice president Andy Palmer said: “The Leaf is our most technically advanced car yet and the launch of this new model, built along with its batteries in Sunderland, is a huge boost not only for the plant but for British manufacturing. We have been showing that you can operate a world-beating plant in the UK for almost 30 years and the construction of the battery plant is a vote of confidence in the country’s ability to support high-technology manufacturing.

“We could not have reached this point without the support and commitment we have enjoyed from governments across Europe, especially the British government, who are backing the car industry on manufacturing and charging infrastructure for electric vehicles.”

Leaf production for other markets continues at Oppama, Japan.

Nissan said the launch of three new grades, new interior trim, the addition of around view monitor technology and new suspension tailored for European roads “gives customers in Europe a second generation zero-emissions car, before most companies have even launched their first electric vehicle”.

The car is built on the same line as the popular Qashqai (aka Dualis) which is buiilt primarily in England.

Nissan Europe will soon also launch its electric e-NV200 van in both light commercial van and five-seat combi versions. Development of a taxi version is also under way.

An Infiniti EV is expected in 2015.