Bhutan, Nissan partner on electric cars to help reduce reliance on imported oil

By Yuri Kageyama

Associated Press

Published: Friday, Feb. 21 2014 7:20 a.m. MST

In this undated photo released Friday, Feb. 21, 2014 by Nissan Motor Co., the Japanese automaker's electric car Leaf runs in Thimphu in Bhutan. The Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan and Nissan are partnering on electric cars, with the Japanese automaker's Leaf being chosen for the government fleet and taxis. Under a deal announced Friday, Feb. 21, 2014, Nissan will help Bhutan achieve its goal of becoming a zero-emissions nation.

Nissan Motor Co., Associated Press

TOKYO — The Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan has tapped Nissan Motor Co. to supply electric cars for its taxis and government fleet, hoping to reduce reliance on imported oil.

Under the agreement announced Friday, Nissan will supply its Leaf electric car and set up charging stations in Bhutan.

Bhutan, with a population of 720,000, produces and exports hydro-electricity. But it's eager to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels shipped in from abroad.

The tiny landlocked country was long known for measuring "gross national happiness" instead of traditional indicators of prosperity such as GDP. But since 2013, a new government under Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay has downplayed it as a distraction from problems of poverty and corruption.

The Leaf is the world's best-selling electric car, selling a cumulative 100,000 so far since going on sale in late 2010, comprising 45 percent of the global electric vehicle market.

The car has struggled to reach a critical mass in sales, especially when compared to hybrid models, for instance, but the Leaf remains the symbol of Nissan's commitment to the environment and shows off its engineering prowess.

Nissan has agreements with more than 100 nations, states and cities globally to promote electric cars, including the Spanish city of Barcelona and Sao Paulo in Brazil.

Most deals in electric cars tend to be with developed nations, making Bhutan a relatively unusual case. Nissan wants to study how its electric vehicle business fits with a developing nation that has substantial clean energy resources.

Nissan declined to disclose the number of electric cars involved or the monetary value for the Bhutan deal. Feasibility studies are planned for how they can cooperate more on the green technology, both sides said.

"Nissan's global experience will be invaluable as we make progress towards an electrified national transport infrastructure," Tobgay said.

Sandwiched between Asian giants China and India, Bhutan was long closed to the rest of the world before starting to open up in the 1960s. Foreigners and the international media were first admitted in 1974, and television arrived only in 1999.

Tobgay, who has a master's in public administration from Harvard University, has pushed for more power to regular people.

Ghosn is Friday presenting two Leaf vehicles to Bhutan, which is also the birthday of Bhutan's king.

Ghosn said Nissan is supporting Bhutan's vision for meeting its transport needs in the future.

Follow Yuri Kageyama on Twitter at twitter.com/yurikageyama

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