Nissan custom-built 100% electric LEAF-powered Bluebird

SUNDERLAND, UK: Celebrating 35 years of production at the Sunderland plant, Nissan has commissioned a special conversion of the Nissan Bluebird – the first car off the factory’s production line in 1986.

Called “Newbird”, the one-off project car is powered by the 100-percent-electric drivetrain of a Nissan LEAF – the pioneering mass-market electric vehicle which kick started the global trend toward electrification of mobility.

The “Newbird” connects 35 years of manufacturing heritage at Sunderland, while Nissan accelerates toward an electrified future through Ambition 2030: the company’s long-term plan to empower mobility and beyond!

Alan Johnson, Vice President, Manufacturing, at Nissan Sunderland Plant, said; “The ‘Newbird’ represents all that is great about our plant – past, present, and future – as we celebrate 35 years of manufacturing in Sunderland.

“We have a rich heritage of building great cars – right from the original Bluebird model – and our fantastic team is now leading the way as we drive toward an exciting electrified carbon-neutral future!”

Nissan “Newbird”: In Detail

The Nissan Bluebird was extensively modified to integrate the LEAF’s electric drivetrain. The original petrol combustion engine and gearbox were removed; then, a LEAF motor, inverter, and 40kWh battery pack was installed, with the battery modules split between the engine bay and boot for optimized weight distribution.

Updates and modifications were made to the power steering, braking, and heating systems to enable them to be electrically powered. Plus, a custom suspension was installed to support the additional weight from the battery packs.

As a nod to the car’s electric updates, the original Nissan bonnet badge received a LED backlight (for when the vehicle is static).

The car is recharged through the original fuel flap: that provides access to the charging port. The battery can be recharged at up to 6.6kW and the original driver instrument panel has been connected to the electric-vehicle system to enable the fuel gauge to show the battery state-of-charge.

Although not homologated, the vehicle’s range from a single charge is estimated at around 130 miles (subject to environmental factors and driving style) with a zero-to-60-miles-per-hour time of just under 15 seconds.

For the exterior of the vehicle, Nissan Design Europe (based in London) created a new graphic motif inspired by design cues: 1980s consumer technology which has been combined with a 21st-century aesthetic.

The conversion was project-managed by Kinghorn Electric Vehicles, a family-run company based in Durham, England (just 15 miles from the Sunderland plant). Kinghorn Electric Vehicles specializes in the conversion of classic cars to full-electric: using second-life Nissan LEAF motors, inverters, and batteries.

George Kinghorn said: “Given our location so close to the Sunderland plant, working on this Bluebird conversion was a great project to be part of. When Nissan opened the Sunderland factory, it gave the North East [or England] a big economic boost. The Bluebird was first off the line, so it represents the start of that optimism, progress, and global industrial footprint which has continued to this day.

“Electric vehicles are not just the future, they’re the now! Converting older vehicles to electric gives you everyday use of these iconic vintage models, but they’re just as enjoyable to drive, they’re more reliable, and, importantly, don’t produce harmful emissions when driving. With this project, we think we’ve created a car which captures the soul of the Nissan Bluebird with the heart of a Nissan LEAF.”

Nissan Sunderland: Then, Now and Tomorrow

Sunderland Plant was officially opened in September, 1986; and has been in operation ever since. Total output from 1986 to the present day stands in excess of ten-million cars.

The number of staff employed at the Sunderland plant has grown from 430 in 1986 to 6,000: 19 of whom started in 1986 and are still working there today.

The first car off the Sunderland production line, in 1986, Bluebird Job 1, is the centerpiece of a local-museum display commemorating the significance of that first vehicle.

Production of Bluebird totaled 187,178 units from 1986 to 1990. When production ramped up it took over 22 hours for each Bluebird to be built. Now, 35 years later, the outstanding improvement in manufacturing technology has reduced the production time to ten hours for the Nissan LEAF; over 200,000 units have been manufactured.

Under Ambition 2030, Nissan aims to become a truly-sustainable company: driving toward a cleaner, safer, and more-inclusive world. The vision supports Nissan’s goal to be carbon-neutral across the lifecycle of its products by fiscal year 2050.

As part of the recent announcements, Nissan unveiled the CHILL-OUT: A “near future” concept which previews the new-generation electric crossover slated for future production in Sunderland.

By the early-2030s, every all-new Nissan-vehicle offering in key markets will be electrified; as well as, introducing innovations in electrification and manufacturing technology.

A proud Producer of sustainable power, Nissan began integrating renewable-energy sources in Sunderland in 2005 when the company installed its first wind turbines on site. These ten turbines contribute 6.6 megawatts power, with the existing 4.8 megawatts solar farm installed in 2016.

A major expansion to renewable energy generated at Sunderland was confirmed in December: with approval given to install an additional 20 megawatts solar farm. Work will begin on the development immediately; and installation, alongside the plant’s existing wind and solar farms, is expected to be complete by May, 2022.

The new 20 megawatts installation will double the amount of renewable electricity generated at Nissan’s Sunderland plant to 20 percent of the plant’s needs – enough to build every 100-percent-electric Nissan LEAF sold in Europe!

This is the first of a potential ten additional solar farms planned under Nissan EV36Zero, that was announced in July, 2021.