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Toyota and Honda Hold Back as the Rest of Japan’s Automakers Go Electric


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Toyota and Honda Hold Back as the Rest of Japan’s Automakers Go Electric



The electric vehicle market in Japan is now burgeoning. Once the mainstay of small independents building low speed, short range Neighborhood Electric Vehicles (NEVs), major manufacturers including Nissan, Mitsubishi and Subaru are now hopping on the EV train in the hopes of raking in some greenie revenue.

With its U.S. launch mere weeks away, Nissan already has 6,000 orders in Japan and a further 20,000 in the United States for its lithium-ion powered Leaf EV. The automaker has so many orders, in fact, that they won’t be taking any more.

As you would expect, Nissan Chief Operating Office Toshiyuki Shiga is one happy man: "We believe this will be the beginning of the new era for the world's automobile industry, as well as a sustainable low-carbon society.”

The Leaf follows the 2009 launch of the Subaru plug-in electric Stella and Mitsubishi’s i-MiEV EVs. Heavyweights Toyota and Honda are also planning similar vehicles for 2012.

Shigeru Matsumura, an automotive analyst for Japan’s SMBC Friend Research Center believes that the high price of EVs and the lack of recharging infrastructure are the biggest hurdles to profitability the major automakers face. Lengthy recharge times and limited range are also an continuing issue for many consumers and automakers alike.

Toyota and Honda appear to agree, with both companies keeping their focus on hybrids and fuel cell vehicles until EVs have a greater presence on the market.

Matsumura, however, believes the market is unlikely to flourish unless Toyota and Honda get in on the party:

"Japan's big three all need to join to develop the market. This is the likely scenario which will bring down high EV prices and help EVs become more common.”

Toyota’s Executive Vice President Takeshi Uchiyamada, however, is standing his ground:

"EVs will spread first for short-range runs. We do not expect a fast spread of EVs."

The Nissan Leaf, which will be unleashed onto the U.S. market on the 11th of December, has an effective EPA fuel economy rating of 99 mpg and a range of 117 km. It will go head to head with GM’s locally produced Volt, which launches nine days later on the 20th of the month.

By Tristan Hankins



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