THIMPHU (AFP) - The remote Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan signed a deal with Japanese auto giant Nissan on Friday to become the ultimate showcase for electric cars, taking advantage of its abundance of hydropower.
The announcement was made during a visit by Nissan chief executive Carlos Ghosn to Thimphu, the picturesque capital of Bhutan, whose government sees electric vehicles as a way of cutting emissions and thus averting the kind of pollution that is commonplace in cities throughout South Asia.
"The Royal Government of Bhutan is pleased to launch this partnership with Nissan as we work to achieve our vision of a leading global EV (Electric vehicle) nation," Bhutanese Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay said as he appeared at a joint press conference with Ghosn.
Nissan on Friday donated two of its Leaf electric car vehicles to the government to mark the revered Bhutanese king's birthday, while for an undisclosed price Nissan will also equip Bhutan's pool of government cars and fleet of taxis.
It will also set up a network of charging stations across Thimphu which industry experts see as vital in persuading motorists to shell out for an electric vehicle.
Wedged between India and China, the "Land of the Thunder Dragon" is teeming with rivers and waterfalls that enable it to operate four hydroelectric plants with a combined capacity of 1,400 megawatts - the equivalent of a powerful nuclear reactor.
Most of the electricity is sold on to India but Bhutan also has to import traditional fossil fuels to meet the needs of its motorists.
Ghosn said that the deal with Bhutan was ideal as it would enable Nissan "to demonstrate how our electric vehicle business can be scaled in emerging markets that are rich in clean energy".
Tobgay, who came to power after winning Bhutan's second ever elections last July, sees electric cars as a way of becoming more self-sufficient and of demonstrating the rapid development of a nation that only introduced television in 1999.
Bhutan is also famed for its pursuit of "Gross National Happiness", an economic development model that specifically takes into account the environment as well as people's psychological well-being.
"Nissan's global experience will be invaluable as we make progress towards an electrified national transport infrastructure," said the prime minister.
The Japanese company has emerged as the world leader in the electric car market having invested four billion euros with its French partner Renault.
Launched in 2010, the Nissan Leaf is now the best-selling electric car in history after becoming the first model to pass the 100,000 mark for worldwide sales at the end of last year.
One of the Leaf's chief attractions is its special fast charger which can be fired up in just half an hour, a vast improvement on the eight hours that it takes to recharge batteries linked up to the mains electricity.