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It’s a defining moment for zero emission vehicles, what with Nissan’s Leaf electric vehicle named as the 2011 European Car of the Year.

The Leaf is the first all-electric car to win the coveted Car of the Year title in the award’s 47-year history, finishing ahead of 40 other contenders for the big prize. In the final shortlist of seven vehicles, the Leaf scored 257 points, despite splitting opinion to the point where several jurors placed it in last place.

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Its total was nine points clear of the Alfa Romeo Giulietta, which scored 248 points and 13 clear of the third-placed Vauxhall/Opel Meriva, which had 244.

The remaining finalists were the Ford C-Max/Grand C-Max, at 224 points, the Citroën C3/DS3 at 175, the Volvo S60 and V60 at 145 and the Dacia Duster at 132 points.

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Different approaches in voting by the jury members produced the final result of this contest. As the panel put it, “the launch of a mass-production electric car in the market has been more awarded – twenty top points – than the sheer appeal of Alfa Romeo Giulietta or the practical originality of Opel Meriva. In spite of the lack of a large recharging network and the limited range, the Leaf represents a technical and commercial bet that might otherwise satisfy many potential consumers, especially where public incentives will come to reduce the paying price.”

The awards were voted for by 58 jury members from 23 countries.