Chris and Mandy Cresswell's new car looks like any other small Japanese import at first glance.

However, when you see it glide away on silent wheels, you realise it's far from ordinary.

The Cresswells say they believe their 2011 Nissan Leaf is the first fully electric car in Whanganui. They asked Harvey Round Motors to import it for them from Japan and received it about a week ago.

"I wanted a car that was environmentally-friendly and not dependent on fossil fuels," Mr Cresswell said.

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The car cost around $4000 more than a petrol-driven car of a similar age and size.

To operate, it costs one-tenth of the running costs of petrol cars, and the engines are long-lasting because they have far fewer parts. For the next two years electric cars are exempt from any road user charges.

The car comes with a long cord and plug that can be put into any socket.

The disadvantage is that it has a range of just 110 kilometres before it needs to be charged again, which takes eight hours. "So we can get to Palmy in it but not back again. It's going to be our around-town vehicle and we'll use our petrol vehicle for longer trips," Mrs Cresswell said.

While the car may seem impractical, the technology is moving fast. Tesla is bringing out a range of fully electric cars at the end of 2017 that will have a range of up to 400km.

Eventually the Cresswells would like to install solar panels on their garage roof and plug the car into those.

"That's the long-term plan," Mr Cresswell said.