The Nissan Leaf electric vehicle being named the 2011 European Car of the Year has left me with mixed feelings.
It is nice to see Nissan being rewarded for its brave 5 billion euro bet on EVs. The head of the Car of the Year jury called the Leaf "a breakthrough for electric cars."
The honor also is good news for tiny EV makers such as Think and Tesla because the positive publicity helps remove some skepticism about the viability of their products.
The problem is that the victory is premature because it comes without any real-life feedback on the Leaf. The car will not be delivered to customers in Japan and the United States until later this month. Europeans will need to wait until early next year to get in the Leaf's driver seat.
The bottom line is that the pool of potential critics is too small, even if many of the people who have driven the Leaf are more demanding and cynical than the average Joe or Jane.
One also has to wonder whether the Car of the Year jury wanted to send a message to those lagging behind in offering alternative powertrains, especially as the pressure mounts globally to reduce emissions.
Based on this week's victory, we now know that an electric car can match or exceed the performance offered by this year's batch of fuel-burning competitors. What will remain unanswered for years to come is whether EVs are the way of the future or just a stop-gap until the fuel cell car is ready.