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Fri, Apr 02, 2010 - Page 10 News List

Japanese start to buy affordable electric vehicles

CLEAN RUNNING The new Mitsubishi i-MiEV is practically selling itself by offering owners lower costs in the long run, as electricity is cheaper than gasoline

AP , TOKYO

Japan’s first mass-market electric car went on sale in showrooms yesterday as the futuristic technology becomes more affordable amid a burgeoning price war.

The four-seater bubble-shaped i-MiEV from Mitsubishi Motors Corp, Japan’s fifth-biggest automaker, costs ¥2.8 million (US$30,500) after government incentives are figured into the price of ¥4 million.

On Tuesday, Mitsubishi decided to cut the price by ¥620,000. That came the same day rival Nissan Motor Co announced it would take orders for its own electric car, the Leaf.

Nissan, Japan’s No. 3 automaker, said the Leaf, scheduled to go on sale in December, would cost ¥3.8 million, but that would fall to ¥3 million with government incentives.

The Leaf gets even cheaper in the US at just over US$25,000 because of a US$7,500 federal tax credit for electric vehicles.

Mitsubishi says it got about 2,000 advance orders in Japan for the i-MiEV, which stands for Mitsubishi innovative Electric Vehicle.

It is based on the company’s gasoline-powered “i” minicar.

CHINA

Also this week, Chinese automaker BYD started retail sales of its new electric car, the F3DM, for the equivalent of US$25,000.

Ford Motor Co is planning an all-electric Focus compact car for sale late next year.

Toyota Motor Corp, the world’s biggest automaker, is planning an electric car for 2012. Prices have not been announced, but they are likely to be more within reach than the two-seater Tesla Roadster’s US$100,000.

Yasuaki Okamoto, auto analyst with Okasan Securities Co in Tokyo, said Nissan, with partner Renault SA of France, was taking the lead in the pricing war in electric vehicles.

BOTTLENECK

“It’s a big trend that has been set into motion,” he said. “The two bottleneck issues for electric vehicles are pricing and the availability of recharging stations.”

The i-MiEV, with a cruising range of 160km on a single charge, can be recharged from a regular home outlet but that takes 14 hours.

It takes 30 minutes to recharge from a more powerful charging station, but in Japan there are only 60 nationwide.

Mitsubishi plans to sell 4,000 i-MiEV vehicles in Japan for the fiscal year through March next year and 5,000 more overseas, mainly in Europe. Sales begin in North America next year, Tokyo-based Mitsubishi said.

Nissan is hoping to produce 50,000 Leafs worldwide in the car’s first year.

Tsuyoshi Mizuochi, who manages a Mitsubishi dealership, said the i-MiEV has become a relatively easy sell as owners would enjoy lower costs in the long run because electricity is cheaper than gasoline.

“We would like to push the theme that we are protecting the Earth,” he said. “We are at a turning point when electric vehicles are going to become more commonplace.”

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