A NORTH-EAST car maker says sales of its ground-breaking electric vehicle have increased as it prepares to mark the first anniversary of work starting in the region.

Nissan says fleet sales of its second generation Leaf increased from 582 in 2012 to 777 in 2013, with more businesses turning to electric vehicles.

The Sunderland company's £420m project to enter the plug-in car market last year created 560 posts at its Wearside plant when it won the race to build the five-seater hatchback for European markets.

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The Japanese firm has capacity to make up to 50,000 Leafs every year in Sunderland, and operates a £200m battery plant to power the cars.

The Leaf, which can travel about 125 miles on a single charge, boasts 100 refinements on the first generation models made in Japan, and is the world's first mass market electric vehicle.

Prime Minister David Cameron previously hailed the Sunderland factory's role in UK car production after sticking a badge on a Leaf at the official launch ceremony in March last year.

He said: “This is an extraordinary success story, and the region has shown that it can compete with the best in the world.

“It is an example to manufacturers across the country.”

The Leaf was last year revealed as the best-selling car in Norway in October, overtaking the Volkswagen Golf, after claiming six per cent of the total passenger vehicle market.

Nissan bosses also revealed fleet sales of its Qashqai and Juke models, which are both made at Sunderland, increased.

The firm said sales of the outgoing Qashqai were 12 per cent higher at 31,186, with the Juke seeing a 41 per cent increase to 14,700 sales.

Nissan has replaced its Qashqai with a new version, complete with new gadgets, safety features and more space than its predecessor.

Barry Beeston, Nissan UK's corporate sales director, said: “Last year saw a continuation of the strong platform we built in 2012 with a rise in Qashqai, Juke and Leaf sales.

“We expect that upward sales trajectory to continue with the new Qashqai now on sale.”