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.