Nissan’s new Leaf electric car presents the company with its biggest opportunity and its biggest challenge, looking at the behaviour pattern of its customers.

Senior vice president Andy Palmer said the Leaf was being rolled out first in countries which are embracing the technology in terms of providing financial incentives and battery charging infrastructure such as the USA, Japan, UK, Ireland and Portugal.

“We are capacity-constrained initially so we don’t need to roll the car out too widely. Our plan is to sell 10,000 Leafs globally by the end of the current fiscal year in March – around 300 in the UK -and we are on target. Every car we can make at the moment is sold and we are building a good customer order bank,” Palmer said.

“Of course there are early adopters who want to be among the first to own a Leaf and so the first cars are not too hard to sell. Then we have to concentrate on getting the message across in terms of the cost of ownership and affordability.

“The process by which we sell the car will be deliberately discriminatory. Dealers will take customers through a process to discover their driving habits. If they are regularly covering 200km [120 miles] a day, then the Leaf is obviously not for them.”

Palmer admits there are barriers to overcome, such as ‘range anxiety’ – will the battery run out of juice before you reach your destination? “But once we can get people in the car it is not too difficult to convince them.

“Around 32% of B segment car buyers do not drive more than 100km – 60 miles – a day. We can show them that they can drive to work, plug the car in, drive home and charge up again. Why would you reject such a zero emission proposition?”

Palmer said the UK is among the most aggressive in setting up a charging infrastructure which is already growing in cities including London, Newcastle, Sunderland – where the Leaf is being built – Milton Keynes and Birmingham.

He added that the cost of installing a fast charging station on the street is around GBP10,000. “When you weigh that against how much it costs to build a petrol station you start to see the logic.”