Nissan Motor's Leaf has been named 2011 European Car of the Year, beating 40 contenders, and becoming the first electric vehicle in the 47-year history of the annual competition to win the award. The jury included 57 motoring journalists from 23 European countries.

“The jury acknowledged today that the Leaf is a breakthrough for electric cars. It is the first EV that can match conventional cars in many respects,” said Håkan Matson, president of the jury.

Nissan Motor president and CEO Carlos Ghosn said: “This award recognises the pioneering zero-emission Leaf as competitive to conventional cars in terms of safety, performance, spaciousness and handling.”

Deliveries in Japan and the United States begin next month. The car is currently built in Japan but will also be produced in North America and Europe when new manufacturing facilities open in late 2012 and early 2013.

In 1993, Nissan's then UK-built Micra [March] became the first Japanese car to win the European COTY.