By on March 31, 2010

Japan appears to get extremely serious about all-electric cars. What stands in the way of their success? Apart from the price (we’ll get to that later:) It’s the infrastructure, stupid. Fabricating, fuelling, and fixing an ICE-powered car is supported by an infrastructure that had more than 100 years to grow. Keeping a plug-in running needs an infrastructure to guarantee mobility away from the charger at home. Japan’s Environment Ministry teams up with Nissan, Sumitomo, and other companies to build the infrastructure for electric vehicles, reports The Nikkei [sub].

Apart from the most obvious – building charging stations – there are some solutions to questions that haven’t been addressed so far. Don’t worry (or do) those questions will surely come up. For instance, what happens if you are on the road and run out of juice? With an ICE, you can trek to the next gas station, and come back with a gallon or two. With a plug-in? Currently, you need a tow. Think about it. You’ll develop a serious case of range anxiety if you think this through.

To solve that issue, Nissan will develop a truck that will give emergency charges – good for 10km or 6 miles – to electric cars that strayed too far from a plug. Then, drivers can use their car navigation system, co-developed by Nissan and Yasukawa, that shows them the way to the nearest charging station.

Orix Auto will help design a car-sharing system.

Nissan will also test a system for collecting and recycling lithium ion batteries together with NTT Facilities and Sumitomo.

Did we mention price? There is movement on that front also. In a separate story, The Nikkei [sub] sees signs “of an emerging price war in electric vehicles.” Mitsubishi Motors will lower the suggested retail price of its i-MiEV by about 620,000 yen ($6,700.) The new price is 3.98m yen ($43,000.) After generous government subsidies, the car will cost 2.84 million yen ($30,000). Nissan answered that their Leaf electric car, which will come out in December, will cost 2.99 million yen ($32,000) after subsidies are deducted. Jeez, that’s what the car will cost in the U.S.A. before subsidies are deducted.

Mitsubishi just began full retail sales of its i-MiEV. Their planning is conservative. They want to sell 9,000 in the new fiscal year that begins April 1. Nissan is more aggressive. They want to produce about 50,000 Leafs a year in Japan, and plan to begin mass production in the U.S. in 2012 and the U.K. in 2013.

Nevertheless, price remains a serious issue. Said Koji Endo, managing director at Advanced Research Japan: “For electric vehicles to really catch on, the actual cost for consumers needs to be 2 million yen or less.”  That would be around $21,000, and sounds about right.

Government subsidies will not last forever. Also in Japan, customers need to wait three to six months until they get their subsidy, which means that they have to front 4 million yen. That and the pesky infrastructure problems will make the all-electric plug-in much less than a run-away hit for the foreseeable future.

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26 Comments on “Japan Tackles Electric Car Infrastructure Predicaments. Manufacturers Lower Prices...”


  • avatar

    2 million yen might just be the magic bullet. I like what Nissan is trying to do… trying to bring the EV down to a more palatable price, get people used to them and secure that precious foothold in the market as the electric manufacturer.

    Much like Toyota did decades ago with the Prius. Give people a better car for the right money. The Leaf’s price exposes the stupid-high pricing of the iMIEV (seriously) and the upcoming Volt.

    That said… the price is still too dear for most. It will be interesting to see how this will all pan out in the coming months.

  • avatar
    Steven02

    Bingo on the price and range anxiety. When the gov’t subsidies stop on the Leaf, it is going to be an expensive Versa. The Volt has this same cost problem, but not the range anxiety problem. There is going to have to be a very convincing cost analysis done for both of these cars to make them truly viable after gov’t subsidies, or find ways to lower the costs.

  • avatar
    jmo

    Bertle,

    How many kilometers per year does the median Japanese motorist drive? I’m thinking EVs make a great deal of sense on a small densly populated island(s).

  • avatar
    Dynamic88

    I disagree about range anxiety. Think of EVs as normal cars with very small gas tanks. You know if the car was fully charged this morning that you’re good for 100 miles. You also know that if you’re the average driver, you’re only going to cover 32 miles. Why worry?

    Ok, you can’t take that cross-continent spur of the moment trip, but how often do you really do that.

    For a lot of people the range is already far in excess of their daily needs. It’s the recharging time that is the problem.

  • avatar
    jmo

    Speaking of Islands – I’d bet the Leaf will be popular in Hawaii. Good climate, high gas prices, and Oahu is only 44 miles x 30 miles so you can go pretty much anywhere and back on one charge.

  • avatar
    mistrernee

    Where do you charge up if you park in the street, possibly blocks from your house or 4th floor walk up? Or a parkade?

    Garages are not exactly common in the built up areas where these things are most useful.

    • 0 avatar
      charly

      In Japan you can’t park on the street and you need a parking space to own a car so getting electricity isn’t that hard

    • 0 avatar
      jmo

      Where do you charge up if you park in the street

      Who would ever buy a Miata, Boxter, Corvett, SLK, Z4? What if you need to tow a boat or you have 6 passengers?

    • 0 avatar
      mistrernee

      “Who would ever buy a Miata, Boxter, Corvett, SLK, Z4? What if you need to tow a boat or you have 6 passengers?”

      If one possible future had everyone driving around in Miatas you might have a point.

      (I didn’t know about Japan’s parking rules)

    • 0 avatar

      Charly: You need to prove that you have a parking space. Renting one by the month on a lot or in a parkade suffices. Haven’t seen any charging stations there.

  • avatar

    People will adjust behaviorally to the range thing, they’ll plug in where-ever they can, and they won’t get stuck. Well, most of them won’t. But it will kill a lot of spontaneity. And teenagers and young adults will get stuck. I had a nightmare once about a world of electric cars.

    @JMO: so let Hawaiians drive EVs! (with apologies to Marie Antoinette)

    • 0 avatar
      Syke

      And . . . . . a whole new etiquette will develop regarding emergency recharging while away from one’s own, or a commercial, charging station. Lots of do’s and don’ts. And it won’t be any bigger a deal than what developed regarding ATM’s.

  • avatar
    dhathewa

    There is a cure for range anxiety:

    http://www.evnut.com/rav_longranger.htm

    • 0 avatar
      Steven02

      I love this spin in your link.

      “For most practical purposes, the project was a great success that never really saw the light of day before the Rav4EV program was terminated.”

      I hadn’t know about this little trailer. It is very interesting indeed. But then again, you could buy a Volt and it comes with one.

    • 0 avatar
      dhathewa

      The problem with the Volt is that it doesn’t come without a range-extender. When you buy a Volt, you’re buying an electric vehicle of mediocre range and a Chevy Cruze with 400lbs (maybe more) of excess baggage and notta lotta trunk. And just 4 passenger capacity.

      I’d like to see a business model emerging where the range-extending trailers could be rented. If you hardly ever leave town (or have multiple vehicles), why own a range extender at all? Driving across country? Pick one up here, drop it there. For the 95% of your trips where EV range is more than enough, leave the thing at home (or don’t rent). All that’s really needed is an industry standard interface for controlling it.

      Range-extenders with cargo capacity would also be useful options for rental.

    • 0 avatar
      Steve65

      Now THERE is a spectacularly good idea. A pure bev for everyday use, convertible to a series hybrid for long range travel. Genius.


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