One of Japan's three biggest automakers has stolen a major march on its two main rivals. While Honda and Toyota delight greenies by selling hybrid cars like the Insight and the Prius, Nissan has been relatively quiet on the eco front. Now the company has revealed what it has been working on and it should shake up the auto industry.

The new Nissan LEAF - the name is not an acronym but signifies purity and greenness - is a fully electric-powered car which Nissan says is the world's first affordable zero-emission vehicle. Prices have not been announced to verify the affordability claim but the company states that it will fall within the C segment. In other words it will be priced to compete with cars like the VW Golf, Dodge Caliber, Toyota Corolla and Ford Focus.

"Nissan LEAF is a tremendous accomplishment - one in which all Nissan employees can take great pride," said Nissan President and CEO Carlos Ghosn. "We have been working tirelessly to make this day a reality - the unveiling of a real-world car that has zero - not simply reduced - emissions. It's the first step in what is sure to be an exciting journey - for people all over the world, for Nissan and for the industry."

What gives the LEAF its credentials is a set of laminated lithium-ion batteries and an electric motor. Unlike hybrids like the Chevrolet Volt, no fossil fuel engine of any type of size is to be found in it. The batteries make over 90kW while the motor delivers 80kW (109hp) and 280Nm, figures similar to those of a compact turbo diesel motor.

However the LEAF, being all-electric, does not emit harmful gases and therefore was not designed to have a tailpipe. Its brake regenerative system helps it recoup wasted energy to help give it a range of roughly 160km between charges. The batteries can be recharged up to 80% of their capacity using a quick charge or 8 hours using a standard home socket. Nothing has been said about recharging during power outages though.

As far as design is concerned it features LED lights, a modern cabin with blue instrumentation, and an IT support system. Owners can use their cell phones to turn on the air conditioning system and an onboard remote controlled timer can be pre-programmed to recharge the batteries.

The Nissan LEAF will be launched in Japan, Europe and the United States in late 2010. We should see it plenty of times before then as it does the rounds at international motor shows.

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