IF we had any doubt over whether or not electric cars would move in from the oddball margins of the motoring world and go fully mainstream, the clearest sign yet has just arrived.
The extraordinary all-electric Nissan Leaf, due to go on sale in Europe early next year, is the talking-point inclusion in the seven-strong shortlist for the prestigious 2011 European Car of the Year Award.
That it is competing at such a rarefied level of the industry is massively symbolic and a sign of a changing world, and the Leaf certainly seems like a worthy flag-carrier for a greener future.
It’s a five-door hatchback with deliberately non-wacky looks and when it reaches UK salerooms next year, the price, complete with government subsidy, will be a touch under £24k. The 12-volt batteries are included and should last 10 years; there will also be an optional solar panel on the rear spoiler to help charge it.
The Leaf will produce zero emissions, will be free of road tax, will cost only around £2 to recharge and will have a range of around 100 miles, which is plenty for a daily commute. The first cars are being built in Japan but production will switch to Sunderland from 2013.
It’s whisper quiet with a built-in whine to warn pedestrians of its presence, it’s reckoned to be pretty nippy in acceleration, will swoosh its way to a 90mph maximum and is packed with the latest technology.
All things considered, the Nissan has the potential to carve itself an instant niche in motoring history – but in the Car of the Year contest, it will be facing some pretty stiff competition.
Among the other six category winners are the rather beautiful Alfa Romeo Giulietta, the sleek new Volvo S60/V60 – produced when Volvo belonged to Ford and before the arrival of Chinese owners – and the (allegedly) much improved Citroën C3/DS3 supermini.
The field is completed by the Ford C-MAX, whose success augurs well for next year’s Focus hatchback, the new Vauxhall Meriva compact MPV, and the Dacia Duster – surely a token presence?
The Car of the Year jury comprises 59 motoring journalists from 23 countries, whose objective is to choose the most outstanding new car to go on sale in the past 12 months.
In the 16 years it has been going, the award has never gone to a Nissan, Citroën or Volvo, but Alfa Romeo has claimed it with the 156 and 147, Ford with the S-MAX and Focus, and Vauxhall with the Insignia. Dacia is still awaiting its big moment.