The head of the European Car of the Year jury called in the Nissan Leaf a "breakthrough for electric cars" while naming it the winner of the coveted award for 2011. It is the first time the award has gone to an electric car.
The Leaf beat 40 contenders including runner-up the Alfa Romeo Giulietta and third-place-finisher the Opel/Vauxhall Meriva to win the award, which is chosen by 57 motoring journalists from 23 European countries.
Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn said the award shows that the Leaf is competitive to conventional cars in terms of safety, performance, spaciousness and handling.
"With three other electric vehicles in the pipeline from Nissan and with the imminent market introduction of four additional electric vehicles from our alliance partner Renault, the Leaf represents a significant first step toward a zero-emission future,” Ghosn said in a statement.
Hakan Matson, the award jury president, said: “The jury acknowledged that the Leaf is a breakthrough for electric cars."
The Leaf is powered by a front-mounted compact electric motor, which drives the front wheels. The car has a range of more than 160km (about 100 miles).
The Leaf will go on sale in Japan and the United States starting in December and in selected markets in Europe early next year.
Nissan plans to create annual capacity to build 250,000 Leafs a year with 150,000 units planned at its U.S. plant in Smyrna, Tennessee, and 50,000 each at factories in Sunderland, England, and and Oppama, Japan.
Nissan last won the European Car of the Year award in 1993 with the Micra subcompact.
The Leaf scored 257 points in the award's 47th annual competition, nine points better than the Giulietta and 13 points ahead of the Meriva.
The remaining finalists were the Ford C-Max/Grand C-Max (224 points), the Citroen C3/DS3 (175), the Volvo S60 and V60 (145) and the Dacia Duster (132).
Last year's winner was the Volkswagen Polo.