Nissan released an image yesterday of a light commercial electric vehicle concept. It’s just a sketch, but the drawing signals that Nissan is moving forward with plans to build an entire electric vehicle program—rather than focusing on a single vehicle.

So far, most of Nissan’s electric plans have focused on the all-electric five-seat Nissan Leaf, which will make its US debut in late 2010, followed by a European release in 2011 and a global rollout in 2012. The new sketch depicts a small multi-purpose commercial van—something like a beefed-up Nissan Leaf for businesses. Clearly targeting congested European cities, Nissan said, “The low-cost multi-purpose vehicle would allow…van and taxi drivers to enter urban areas where CO2 emissions are restricted.”

The vehicle is based on the Nissan NV200 Vanette, which was launched in Japan and Europe earlier this year. Small commercial vans—making frequent stops in an urban environment, and managed by a business that can schedule recharging—could be a natural entry-point for carmakers introducing all-electric vehicles. Ford’s first all-electric vehicle will be an electric version of the Transit Connect—shorter than a Ford Focus but with cargo capacity exceeding the space of many cargo vans. It has minivan-like sliding rear-side doors and can seat up to five passengers. The all-electric Transit Connect, which will launch in the US in the second half of 2010, is perfect for a florist, plumbing service, or other small business—especially one trying to earn points for being green.

Nissan NV200
Ford Transit Connect

Top: Nissan NV200
Bottom: Ford Transit Connect

The release of the drawing by Nissan indicates that an electric small commercial van could be the company’s next electric vehicle, following the Leaf. The company also has announced intentions to build a four-seat Infiniti electric compact car, as well as the improbable single-passenger Land Glider—a three-and-a-half feet wide, cocoon-shaped vehicle that can lean as much as 17 degrees when turning corners.

While most public attention will be placed on the first high-profile plug-in models, like the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt, the long-term viability of plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles depends on building across multiple platforms. Speaking at yesterday’s Reuters Autos Summit in Detroit, Brent Dewar, chief of global operations for Chevrolet, confirmed that GM plans to “take the Volt technology to other products.”