Japan racing to develop electric cars

Zero-emission vehicles not to be a novel concept for long

TOKYO: “Please erase your image of electric cars being like golf carts,” a spokesman for Japan’s fourth-biggest automaker said before taking a zero-emission vehicle out for a spin.

As mass-produced electric cars come closer to reality, their makers are trying to polish the image of what experts say could be a hard sell in the current recession.

“It’s fast, powerful and smooth,” Mitsubishi Motors Corp spokesman Kai Inada said of the iMiEV electric car, which is due to be launched next year. Zero-emission vehicles may not be a novel concept for long. Japanese carmakers are racing to develop electric cars, and US and European manufacturers have also announced plans to roll them out within a few years.

The dream of an electric car, which has been around since the time of Thomas Edison, has so far failed to break into the mainstream because of limited battery life that makes such vehicles impractical for most purposes. But after technological breakthroughs in the development of long-lasting lithium-ion batteries, soon it may not just be Hollywood stars who are zipping around in zero-emission automobiles.

Mitsubishi’s electric car now runs 160 kilometres (100 miles) on one charge, which takes 14 hours when using a conventional 100 volt outlet on the wall, or 30 minutes to charge 80 percent of the battery using a special quick charger.

With the help of government subsidies, Mitsubishi Motors aims to sell its iMiEV at a price of less than three million yen ($30,000) as early as 2010. Nissan Motor Co aims to start selling an electric car in the United States and Japan in 2010 and the rest of the world in 2012.

Other Japanese automakers have been working to create fuel cell cars, which produce electricity through a chemical reaction between hydrogen and oxygen, with water the only by-product. Honda began selling the latest FCX Clarity in the United States in July, with the first five cars to be delivered to celebrities including film producer Ron Yerxa and actress Jamie Lee Curtis. Toyota Motor Corp, which has already won strong interest in its petrol-electric hybrids, is developing a range of fuel cell, electric and other clean cars that run on biofuel or clean diesel. afp

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