The Renault-Nissan Alliance has predicted that, by 2020, 10 per cent of global car sales will be electric vehicles.

We’ve been hearing about the rise of the electric car for decades, so it’s easy to be cynical.

However, I’ve just spent a short spell with one of the final prototypes of next year’s Nissan Leaf electric car and it’s clear this is a very serious machine.

The Leaf is pretty much based on the Megane-sized Tiida, although the platform has been heavily modified. The Leaf’s floorpan pressing has been re-worked so its can accommodate Nissan’s own design of compact battery packs. This means the interior and luggage space of the Leaf are completely uncompromised.

The car’s drivetrain couldn’t be more straightforward: an electric motor (good for 80Kw (107bhp) and 206lb ft of torque) drives the front wheels through a single-speed transmission. It should travel 140km (87 miles) on a single charge.

Although the Leaf has a limited top speed, nobody could complain about the car’s acceleration. It is extremely swift and, even in this Tiida-bodied prototype, superbly quiet. Nissan engineers promise the Leaf is quieter still.

Moreover, the seamless surge of speed is made all the better because there’s no interruption from transmission shifting ratios. It’s an automotive sensation unlike any other.

An ordinary household electricity supply will charge the car up ineight hours. However, the Leaf is also in 24hr contact with a central data system. This allows the driver to activate the charger by email as well being able to see a live update display of the car’s charging status.

Leaf owners will also be able to start the car’s air-con system remotely and will even get an email estimate of the cost of the eight hourr re-charge.

The Leaf goes on sale next year in Japan and the US, but won’t arrive in the UK until 2012. Nissan’s Sunderland plant has already been allocated as European battery production plant and Nissan UK bosses are crossing their fingers, hoping the Leaf itself will also be made in Sunderland.

There’s no doubt that the Leaf is the real deal, and not just another souped-up milk float. With the promise of zero pollution as well as swift and silent progress, it should appeal to urban drivers.

Trouble is, the expensive battery costs mean it won’t be cheap, so we’ll have to wait and see what kind of incentives the government is willing to put on the Leaf’s bonnet. In the US, the national government has promised as much as $7500 (£4500) in buyer incentives.

Will credit-crunched Britain do the same? If it wants to make a small step towards start cleaning up the UK’s air pollution, it should.

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