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Electric vehicle history

... but have not been commercially viable or acceptable to the mass market because of limited battery technology.

Nissan built its first electric vehicle, the Tama, with a lead-acid battery in 1947 before switching to using nickel-metal hydride batteries. The Japanese company started research and development into battery technology in 1992 with cobalt-based, cylindrical batteries. It later switched to cheaper and lighter manganese and then flat laminated lithium-ion batteries.

Nissan battery pack design chief Sadao Miki said the company's development of lithium-ion batteries was the key to future electric vehicles. Company product planner Andy Palmer said the ‘breakthrough’ was the lithium-ion technology. "The battery is our piece de resistance," he said.

Nissan's first electric car with lithium-ion batteries was the Prairie Joy SUV in 1996. The original Prairie EV was on show at the international launch of Nissan's new electric vehicle in Yokohama on Sunday.

It was used by the Japanese government at the North Pole as an observation vehicle for three years and featured Japan's first non-contact charging system using magnetic induction technology rather than physically plugging into a mains outlet or charging station. It had a range of 200km and a power output of 62kW.

The company has since produced the Altras and Hypermini electric vehicles and in 1997 established the Automotive Energy Supply Corporation in a joint partnership to produce lithium-ion batteries.

The Leaf electric vehicle will be produced next year with two more electric vehicles to follow before the second generation of the Leaf. Palmer would not say what segment the other electric vehicles would fit into, but he ruled out large vehicles because of weight issues.