LONDON, March 20 (Reuters) - A sharp rise in fuel prices this year is likely to lead more Europeans to buy electric cars, even though they are more expensive than conventional vehicles, auto executives said.
Brent crude oil prices have risen by more than 15 percent so far this year to over $124 a barrel, reaching over $128 at the start of March.
"Electric cars cost typically around a fifth (depending on the market) to fuel when compared with conventional petrol or diesel cars," Olivier Paturet, head of Nissan's Zero Emission business unit in Europe, said.
"Increased costs at the forecourt give consumers yet an additional reason to look for alternatives," he added.
In the European Union, rising crude prices have less of a percentage impact on the overall retail cost of fuel than in Japan or the United States, because EU taxes on energy are much higher.
Still, in the UK average pump prices are up more than 20 percent from two years ago.
New UK registrations for pure electric cars, meanwhile, surged nearly 700 percent to more than 1,082 vehicles in 2011 versus the previous year, according to figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).
"There is certainly momentum showing that those registrations are increasing," said SMMT spokesman Jonathan Visscher, who cited rising fuel costs as part of the reason.
"The cost of fuel is something that is on every motorist's mind, and finding ways to minimize the impact from fuel prices is something that every motorist is keen to do," he said.
Globally, new electric car registrations still account for no more than 1 percent of the auto market.
Nissan, which sold around 20,000 electric cars globally last year, reckons that by 2020 electric vehicles could account for 10 percent of all cars sold. "Some say less, but that is our position," Paturet said.