The first Nissan cars built in Britain for the Japanese market in more than a decade were loaded on to a huge container ship yesterday.
A batch of 20,000 Qashqais, like coals to Newcastle, were built in Sunderland specifically to be sent back to the parent company's home market.
The coup was a source of pride for the 4,300-strong workforce at what is now Europe's most productive car plant.
The Japanese versions of the Qashqai - a compact sports utility vehicle named after an Iranian nomadic tribe - will have automatic transmission with computer-controlled `stepless' gear changes, providing lower exhaust emissions and better fuel economy. These models will also have an overtaking mirror to comply with traffic laws in Japan.
Nissan's British plant started life 21 years ago simply re-assembling Bluebirds from Japanese-produced kits.
This year it produced its 4.5 millionth car, and has been the UK's largest exporter for nine consecutive years.
The last Wearside-built car to be exported to Japan was the 1996 Primera model.
Nissan's vice-president of manufacturing in the UK, Trevor Mann, said: "This is a significant model for the plant.
"Japan is a very demanding market and it is very satisfying that the corporation believes we should export cars back there."