HUNDREDS of Nissan cars have been shipped out of Sunderland for the first time in 26 years in what is being seen as a major coup for the city’s port.
The car giant carried out a trial run during which 600 Qashqais were loaded on to a ship destined for Russia.
Nissan usually exports vehicles from its Washington factory through the Port of Tyne in South Tyneside.
However hopes are high the test-run could lay the foundations for more Sunderland-built cars to be exported from the city.
Last week, the Echo saw the trial being carried out at Corporation Quay in the East End of the city centre.
The left-hand-drive cars were loaded onto a vessel named “Baltic”.
It is hoped the trial could ultimately lead to a boost for Sunderland’s economy.
A spokeswoman for Nissan confirmed: “We are running a trial from the port on a shipment just as a test to see how things work.”
Both Port of Sunderland and the Port of Tyne, in South Shields, are roughly six miles away from Nissan’s Washington plant.
Should regular exports be made from Port of Sunderland, it would mark a huge improvement in its fortunes.
After turning a profit in 2007/08, it fell back into relying on subsidies from the city council in subsequent years.
Earlier this year, the Echo reported that the business is now set to be back in profit by the end of 2012/13, after seeing a growth in trade.
Director of the authority Matthew Hunt, a former commercial director at Port of Tyne, has been credited with being a key figure in its upturn in fortunes.
The port, which is the UK’s second-largest municipally owned port, currently deals with forest products, steel, aggregates and oil.
It also caters for ship repair, marine engineering and dry-docking facilities.
Dr Mick Thurlbeck, a former head of the Sunderland branch of the North East Chamber of Commerce, said regular transportation of Nissan vehicles could be of huge benefit to the city.
He said: “I think it would be great news if they can use the port to export cars.
“If it happens it is only going to bring more outside investment into the port as well.
“We might even start getting goods imported from European suppliers too.”
The latest development follows a high profile few weeks for Sunderland’s once crisis-hit port.
As part of her Diamond Jubilee visit to the city this month, the Queen stayed overnight in the Port on board the £50million super-yacht the Leander G.
Port of Tyne exported 667,000 cars last year including models by Nissan, Volkswagen and other manufacturers.
In May, it announced record financial results, including a £9million profit.
Port of Tyne and Sunderland Council both declined to comment on the trial.