NISSAN’S radical Leaf electric car has been shortlisted for the European Car of the Year award.
The Leaf, which will be built at Nissan’s Sunderland plant from 2013, is the first electric vehicle to be shortlisted for the award.
If it wins, Nissan will become the first Japanese manufacturer to notch up a double.
The Sunderland-built Micra became the first Japanese car to be crowned car of the year when it clinched the title ahead of the Fiat Cinquecento and the Renault Safrane, in 1993.
Ian Shepherd, Nissan’s director of technology at the Nissan Technical Centre, in Cranfield, said the award would be a massive boost for the Sunderland workforce.
“Obviously, we are delighted the car has been shortlisted,”
he said. “It’s like nothing ever sold before – the world’s first mass production allelectric car – and this accolade rewards all the hard work that’s gone into making it a reality.”
The Leaf goes on sale in the UK in the spring and will cost £23,990, including a Government plug-in car grant of £5,000.
Initial cars will be manufactured in Japan and shipped to Europe. The Sunderland plant will take over full-scale production in 2013.
Mr Shepherd said the factory was gearing up for the Leaf’s arrival.
“Our Sunderland battery manufacturing facility will be up-and-running in 2012 and Leaf production will begin soon after,” he said.
“Evaluation work is already going on to see what changes need to be made to the production line that will enable us to manufacture the car.”
Mr Shepherd also revealed that the Sunderland-built Leaf is expected to feature a number of upgrades over the initial batch of Japanese models.
Automotive battery technology is evolving all the time and the Sunderland Leaf’s debut will probably coincide with the car’s mid-life refresh.
The Leaf is a revolutionary product and, as such, Nissan hopes it will continue to evolve.
Engineers are already looking at ways of moving a large plastic bulkhead in the boot – which houses the regenerative braking technology – beneath the floor to free-up extra luggage space.
The Leaf also gives Nissan Sunderland a crucial edge in the battle to build more electric cars.
“We have the batteries and soon we will have the production know-how,” said Mr Shepherd.
“Nissan has an electric vehicle plan mapped out and Sunderland will be in a very good position to win the right to manufacture any models set to be built in Europe.
“Will the plant one day manufacture nothing but electric vehicles? That’s probably a fair way off – conventional engines will be with us for a long time yet – but I suppose it’s possible.”
This year’s Car of the Year winner will be announced on November 29.