Buzz builds around electric cars as Nissan plans debut

As the Gulf of Mexico disaster casts an ugly spotlight on the pitfalls of global oil dependency, Japan's auto giants are moving into high gear in a drive to mass-market electric cars.

Nissan, Honda and Toyota are among car-makers now gambling that electric vehicles (EVs) with their zero tailpipe emissions will catch on and, some time in the future, start to drive traditional gas-guzzlers off the road.

If their bet pays off, green car proponents say, it could ring in a revolution that changes the very idea of what an automobile is, turning cars into electric appliances that drive smoothly, cleanly and silently.

US President Barack Obama called last Tuesday for a "national mission" to develop clean energy, speaking from the White House as gushing crude oil kept fuelling his country's worst environmental catastrophe.

"The tragedy unfolding on our coast is the most painful and powerful reminder yet that the time to embrace a clean energy future is now," he said in a sombre prime-time telecast.

Battery-powered cars will be a crucial part of that future, manufacturers promise, even as critics point to tough hurdles - including higher sticker prices and 'range anxiety' - to gaining wide consumer acceptance.

An EV's energy consumption and carbon footprint are determined by the way its battery is charged - meaning it can effectively be powered by anything from fossil fuel or nuclear plants to hydro, wind or solar energy.

A critical question will be whether sufficiently large networks of electric re-charging stations are built - a chicken-and-egg question that has long held back the development of EVs, analysts say.

Cars that can be charged like a cellphone by plugging them into a wall socket, preferably during overnight off-peak hours, promise to shield consumers from volatile petrol prices and be cheaper in the long run.

Another benefit is that they emit none of the tailpipe pollutants that have covered the skies over cities from Los Angeles to Mumbai in smog.

Their efficiency is boosted because they are lighter, have motors that directly power wheels, preserving energy otherwise lost in transmission, and because the battery charge is topped up by regenerative braking.

Bullish Nissan, part-owned by Renault of France, will in December roll out its Leaf - short for Leading Environmentally Friendly, Affordable Family car - as the world's first mass-produced electric car.

The five-seater hatchback has a top speed above 140 kilometres (90 miles) per hour, a range of 160 kilometres (100 miles) and can be recharged in eight hours, or rapid-charged to 80 percent of capacity in 30 minutes.

"We do believe this car is a game-changer in terms of this technology, and it will play a role in the future," Simon Thomas, Nissan's senior vice president of sales and marketing, said in London last month.

Nissan plans to sell 50,000 EVs in the United States, Japan and Europe per year in 2011 and 2012 and then 500,000 units in 2013. It predicts that by 2020 electric cars will account for 10 percent of the global auto market.

- Japan enthusiasts drive electric car 1,000 kilometres -

Although experts foresee revolutionary change, they disagree on the pace.

"This could be a new industrial revolution," said Mamoru Kato, analyst at Tokai Tokyo Research Center. "With EVs, you will no longer need traditional auto parts makers. Carmakers will essentially become electronics makers."

However, he predicted EVs won't really take off for another 10 years.

"I think the hurdle for their popularisation is very high," he told AFP.

"It will take at least a decade to improve batteries so that they can sufficiently power vehicles. After that, it will take more years to build up infrastructure, like battery power stations."

Questions remain about global standards for electric plug-in systems, and about the supply of lithium for batteries and their safe disposal.

Batteries now make up about a half the price of an EV, typically between 10,000 and 20,000 dollars, and a key will be to make them cheaper and last longer, said Tatsuya Mizuno, analyst at Mizuno Credit Advisory.

"Generally, they have to increase performance while cutting prices," he said. "It will be difficult. But prices of electronics parts are falling fast."

Whatever the outlook, other major carmakers, among them General Motors, Ford, BMW and Daimler, plan to start selling EVs by 2013.

At home Nissan will go head-to-head with Mitsubishi Motors which launched its all electric "i-MiEV" compact a year ago.

Toyota, which has for more than a decade sold petrol-electric hybrids such as the Prius, has promised to launch its own electric car by 2012.

Last month it bought a 50-million-dollar stake in Tesla Motors, a Palo Alto, California start-up that in 2004 began developing its Roadster, a boutique, "highway-ready" electric sports car with a range of about 245 miles.

The Silicon Valley firm this year also bought the former NUMMI factory in Fremont, California which until recently made Toyota's Corolla and Tacoma vehicles, to build its Model S sedan and future Tesla vehicles.

Some industry players may leapfrog to EVs, PriceWaterhouseCooper said in a recent report, pointing to the "changing geography of the automotive industry".

"Chinese automakers, for example, understand it will behoove them to focus on developing electric vehicles rather than committing major resources to catching up on internal combustion engine standards," it said.

In many countries, electric charging networks are now being built.

The company Better Place has built up EV infrastructure in Denmark and Israel where drivers can either recharge or swap batteries, focusing on customers such as government agencies and taxi fleets.

Nissan says it has partnered with 50 groups and communities around the world, from Australia's capital Canberra to parts of England, to introduce EVs with subsidies and benefits such as dedicated highway lanes.

California is shaping up as the US test-bed for EVs, with the government offering rebates and backing a network of more than 5,000 charging stations, set to be up and running by 2012.

Many will be at locations where people spend time - including restaurants, hotels, malls and churches - and some major retailers plan to offer electricity for free to attract customers, Dow Jones has reported.

In Japan pilot programmes in tourist spots and by city governments have given many people a taste of driving an EV.

A citizens group, the Japan Electric Vehicle Club, has fuelled the buzz. In May it claimed a new world record when it drove its own EV, fitted with a stack of lithium ion batteries, for 1,003 kilometers (623 miles) on a single charge.

Jacqueline Bisset has claimed that young women today are obsessed with being 'hot', rather than 'charming', 'romantic' or 'beautiful'
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham
booksLena Dunham's memoirs - written at the age of 28 - are honest to the point of making you squirm
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvDownton Abbey review: It's six months since we last caught up with the Crawley clan
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
Life and Style
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
techNew app offers 'PG alternative' to dating services like Tinder
Greg Dyke insists he will not resign as Football Association chairman after receiving a watch worth more than £16,000 but has called for an end to the culture of gifts being given to football officials
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
premier league
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave crime series
Mario Balotelli celebrates his first Liverpool goal
premier leagueLiverpool striker expressed his opinion about the 5-3 thriller with Leicester - then this happened
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says
tvSpoiler warning: Star of George RR Martin's hit series says viewers have 'not seen the last' of him/her
Plenty to ponder: Amir Khan has had repeated problems with US immigration because of his Muslim faith and now American television may shun him
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Primary Teacher

    £90 - £145 per day + travel expenses: Randstad Education Newcastle: Primary Su...

    Service Delivery Manager - Software Company

    £40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Service Delivery Manager Kingston Up...

    Year 3 Teacher

    £90 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Year 3 Primary Teacher in HullA f...

    Drama Teacher - Hull and Grimsby

    Negotiable: Randstad Education Hull: The JobRandstad are currently in need of ...

    Day In a Page

    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments