By Aby Tharakan
THIMPHU (Reuters) - Nissan Motor Co has struck a deal to supply its Leaf electric car for taxis and government use in Bhutan, it said on Friday, as the Himalayan kingdom seeks to cut expensive oil imports.
Bhutan regards environmental protection as a priority, but while it exports clean hydro-electricity to India, the proceeds are wiped out by the oil it imports to power its vehicles.
The country - home to about 740,000 people - will seek funding from international agencies to help pay for the Leaf cars, Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay said.
Nissan did not disclose how many cars the deal would involve or how much they would cost. In the firm's home market of Japan, the Leaf costs from around $29,300 without subsidies.
Other car makers, including India's Mahindra & Mahindra and Tesla Motors Inc are seeking to bring their electric cars into Bhutan's tiny auto market.
Mahindra Reva, the electric car unit of Mahindra & Mahindra, is expected to launch its e2o car in the country next week.
"I see Bhutan as a great showcase for emerging markets wanting to go this road," Nissan Chief Executive Carlos Ghosn told Reuters in an interview in Bhutan's capital Thimphu.
Bhutan adopted a mantra in 1979 that a happiness index, rather than orthodox economic indicators, was a better way to measure national progress and the protection of its rich environment is a cornerstone of that.
In developed markets, electric vehicles have been slower to take off than some had expected.
Ghosn pushed back by two to three years an initial target for Nissan and its alliance partner Renault SA to sell a combined 1.5 million electric vehicles by the end of March 2017. As of November, the two companies had sold 120,000 electric vehicles over three years.
(Writing by Aradhana Aravindan and Yoko Kubota; Editing by Pravin Char)