CAR maker Nissan has seen sales of its all-electric Leaf hatchback rise as bosses hail better-than-expected profits.

The Sunderland-based company says the North-East built Leaf recorded 230 UK sales in January.

The rise came as Nissan revealed stronger European demand, particularly from Russia, from its vehicles.

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It has now sold more than 1,300 models of its new Leaf since starting production in Sunderland last April, with UK Leaf sales 1,000 per cent higher than a year ago.

The Japanese firm has also seen its profits increase 57 per cent to £503m for the nine months to December 31, thanks to recovering sales in China.

It sold more than 48,500 vehicles selling across Europe in January, compared to 46,527 in 2013, including 15,141 Sunderland-built Qashqais.

Russia accounted for 11,552 sales, with 9,781 deals in the UK and about 5,000 in France.

Last month, the Japanese firm also produced a special edition of its Leaf to celebrate 100,000 global sales, with a promotional car covered in 50,000 two pence coins and 50,000 two cent Euro coins to highlight its 2p a mile running costs.

Jim Wright, Nissan UK managing director, said: “Momentum around the Leaf is growing with each passing month and only looks like continuing.

“When we launched the Leaf, we were the first to bring an all-electric vehicle to market that was both practical and affordable and its success demonstrates we were right.

“Other manufacturers are now trying to play catch-up, but the fact that we're the leader of the pack in the new year puts us in a great position.”

Carlos Ghosn, Nissan president and chief executive, said: "Sales in Japan and North America helped offset emerging market volatility and sluggish conditions in Europe."