NISSAN has lauded its groundbreaking electric vehicle after shattering a sales record.

The Sunderland firm says drivers are turning to its all-electric Leaf hatchback after seeing 630 UK sales in March.

The figure was nearly double the 332 models it sold in September, and 155 per cent higher than the 247 Leafs it sold in March last year.

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The improvement helped the Japanese firm sell 898 electric vehicles in the first quarter of 2014, which was a 47 per cent rise on the 612 in the same period of 2013.

Earlier this year, Nissan made a special edition Leaf to celebrate 100,000 global sales and the vehicle is also a major success in Norway, becoming the country's third-most sold passenger car.

The record came as the car maker revealed a four-year agreement to sponsor Europe's flagship club football tournament.

The company, which employs 7,000 North-East workers, will replace rival Ford as sponsor of the UEFA Champions League next season, in a deal believed to be worth more than £45m a year.

James Wright, Nissan GB managing director, said motorists were beginning to see the benefits of the Leaf.

Nissan Motor GB, said: “The continued success of the Nissan Leaf comes as no surprise to those of us who have been involved with its development.

“It has blazed a trail and still leads the way.

“As it becomes an increasingly familiar sight on the nation's roads, word of mouth is spreading, and more and more drivers are being won over.”

Nissan started production of its Leaf at Sunderland a year ago, with Prime Minister David Cameron formally setting the production line rolling.

More than 13,000 of the electric vehicles have now been built in the region, with Nissan setting aside £420m to equip its plant to produce up to 50,000 Leafs a year, employing 560 workers.

As part of its Champions League deal, Nissan will hold extensive rights to advertise at matches and pre-match training sessions, as well as media and hospitality events.

Bosses said the move, which will see the company's name displayed at famous stadiums, including Real Madrid's Santiago Bernabéu and Bayern Munich's Allianz Arena, would raise its profile in Europe.

Roel de Vries, Nissan's corporate vice president and global head of marketing and communications, added: “Europe's best football competition will be an important global platform for us.”