You'd be forgiven for thinking Hawaii is the center of the electric vehicle universe. Wednesday, Nissan announced it would be one of the first markets for the 2011 Leaf electric vehicle.

Then yesterday South Korean manufacturer CT&T signed a deal with the state's governor, Linda Lingle, to build a plant in Hawaii to manufacture low-speed neighborhood electric vehicles (NEVs).

Hawaii is keen to promote its green credentials and become known as a place where EVs are welcome. 

Earlier this year, the state installed its first public EV charging station. Two years ago, both Better Place and startup EV maker Phoenix Motorcars signed deals with the state to introduce infrastructure and vehicles to help promote electric vehicles.

Privately owned electric cars on the islands are abundant--ranging from home conversions to vehicles like the Toyota RAV4 EV and Ford Ranger EV--and it's easy to see why. Temperate climate and short-distance journeys are optimum conditions for using an electric car.

Hawaii's local DIY converter of EVs doesn't have to worry about expensive long-range battery packs, nor battery heating systems. Cheap lead-acid batteries are good enough, reducing cost and encouraging more wrench-turners to go electric.

For mainstream EVs from global carmakers, Hawaii is a prime early-adopter target market. And it will serve as an ideal test market before launching in other areas of the U.S.

2011 Nissan Leaf

2011 Nissan Leaf

With just 4,300 miles of roads in the entire state, and a coast-to-coast trip on the main Island no longer than 112 miles, the 100 miles-per-charge 2011 Nissan Leaf will be at home.

Then there is the booming market of tourists. The CT&T vehicle seems well-suited to day trippers and rental firms on the smaller islands. With a top speed of just 40 mph, the low-speed NEV would struggle to gain market share in any other U.S. state, but may well succeed in Hawaii.

Of course, the more tourists who experience the positive side of electric vehicles of any kind, the more likely they are to consider buying an EV back home. A beautiful test drive of an EV with Hawaii as a backdrop on a lazy summer holiday is bound to drive sales of the 2010 Nissan Leaf.

Case in point: I test drove my in-laws' 2008 Toyota Prius on a winter romp visiting the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia.  It was one of the most memorable test drives I've ever taken, and when we came back to the U.K., we immediately placed an order for one.

Hawaii can only be applauded for its green attitude towards electric vehicles. But to keep environmentalists happy, it will need to work hard to ensure that as much of the state's electricity as possible is sourced from renewable energy.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, petroleum-fired power plants currently supply more than three-fourths of all Hawaii's electricity.

Photovoltaic solar panels and wind turbines seem ideally suited for the island's sunny, breezy climate. Bring on the renewables!

[Nissan]