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Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2011
The year of the electric car
This year can be the year in which electric cars make headway in attracting a large number of customers who want to buy a vehicle that has no gas emmissions over a vehicle that runs on fossil fuels. But many problems must be overcome before electric cars become a transportation mainstay.
Nissan kicked off fierce competition in electric car sales with the December launch of the Leaf, a five-door hatchback, in Japan and the United States. The Leaf has already found 6,000 customers in Japan — its sales target for the first three months of 2011. In the U.S., 20,000 customers have signed up to buy a Leaf, enabling Nissan to fulfill its initial sales goal.
Mitsubishi Motor, which started selling the i MiEV to corporate customers in July 2009, started selling the electric car to individual customers in April 2010. Toyoto and Honda plan to introduce electric versions of the iQ microcar and the Fit five-door subcompact, respectively, in Japan and the U.S. in 2012.
Stronger CO2 emission controls imposed in various countries are forcing carmakers to develop electric cars. Failure to develop electric cars in time could deal a critical financial blow to carmakers. The carmakers must have high technological capabilities to develop the batteries, motors and accessories needed for electric cars. They also must develop the infrastructure to charge vehicles. Traditional carmakers also have to prepare for newcomers' entry into electric vehicle manufacturing.
While electric cars are eco-friendly, they carry high price tags due to the cost of the high-performance batteries. Even with government subsidies, an electric vehicle costs about ¥3 million. With one full charge, an electric car can cover a distance of only about 200 km — about one-third the distance covered by a car running on a full tank of gasoline.
Nissan has installed quick chargers at some 200 stores and Mitsubishi plans to do so at 70 stores by the end of March for drivers of both firms' electric cars. Both the corporate and government sectors must cooperate to attain the omnipresence of chargers — a vital step for the wide use of electric cars — and to help encourage the proliferation of plug-in hybrid cars rechargeable at home.