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More compact EVs take spotlight in Tokyo Show

/ 07:54 PM November 29, 2011

TOKYO, Japan—With Japanese automakers leading the charge in electric vehicle technology, the 42nd Tokyo Motor Show 2011, which opens December 3, will feature a plethora of compact EVs designed for city driving, easy parking and low cost.

Recharging systems that rely on solar and wind power are also being showcased at the event.

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EVs were regarded as more of a curiosity than a technological breakthrough until Mitsubishi Motors Corp. and Nissan Motor Co. both released their first mass-produced i-MiEV and Leaf electric cars in 2009 and 2010, respectively.

Now that sales of those two models have exceeded 20,000 units globally, industry watchers say a new market is shaping up as the one that may eventually replace cars powered by gasoline.

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While electric cars offer an edge in terms of gas emissions and engine noise, they are still not suited to long-distance driving because of the limitations of battery capacity and recharging facilities.

Toyota Motor Corp., Nissan and Honda Motor Co. are pitching their new models for short-distance rides on city roads.

Some of this year’s offerings almost resemble toy cars.

For example, Toyota converted its fuel-powered iQ super compact car into an electric vehicle.

Despite its size, the iQ can carry three passengers and travel 105 kilometers on a single charge.

Toyota says it is the ideal car for short-distance rides and daily commutes.

“If the driving speed is kept to around 50 kph, the car will meet 85 percent of the driver’s expectations,” said a Toyota representative. “Toyota will market the iQ in 2012.

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At the motor show, Honda will introduce its new Micro Commuter Concept prototype electric car designed for urban rides. The car can travel 60 km on a single charge. Space is set aside next to the driver’s seat for a motorcycle, allowing the user to switch to another form of transport.

The car’s back-up battery can also be removed and used for the motorbike, Honda says.

Nissan will unveil the Pivo 3 small electric car at the event. The car, which can travel 100 km on a single charge, automatically parks when the driver leaves the car in front of a parking lot.

Getting more mileage remains a major challenge for automakers. Nissan’s Leaf EV gets 200 km on a single charge. Other manufacturers will display modified hybrid vehicles for long-distance rides.

Toyota will unveil the Prius Plug-in Hybrid, which can be recharged from a household electrical outlet.

The Prius-based car operates fully as an electric vehicle on city roads, but partially relies on fuel while traveling on expressways.

So even when the battery is out of power, the car, if refueled, can continue to run as a hybrid, the company said. Toyota will release Prius Plug-in Hybrid next year.

Honda and Mitsubishi Motors will unveil prototype plug-in hybrid medium-size sedans and sports utility vehicles. Both offer more interior space for more comfortable long-distance rides.

Natural energy-related equipment is also a feature of this year’s motor show.

Toyota will exhibit a recharging installation powered by solar energy and the wind as its electric cars and plug-in hybrids require such sites.

Nissan will display a house that can recharge EVs from solar panels mounted on the roof. The electricity can also be consumed for home use.

Twenty-four overseas automakers will also be represented, mainly from Europe. At the previous motor show, only nine foreign manufacturers took part because of the lingering global downturn triggered by the 2008 collapse of US Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc.

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TAGS: auto, electric vehicles, Motoring, Tokyo Motor Show 2011
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