電気自動車 技術革新促すエコカー競争

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Dec. 7, 2010)
Innovation key to winning eco-car race
電気自動車 技術革新促すエコカー競争(12月6日付・読売社説)

Competition among makers of electric vehicles, which do not discharge carbon dioxide, is heating up.

Many problems have to be overcome before these vehicles can become more popular, but the landscape of the automobile manufacturing industry will hinge on the outcome of the carmakers' battle for domination.

Nissan Motor Co. recently announced it will start delivery of its Leaf five-seater electric vehicle in Japan and the United States this month. Sales in Europe are scheduled for early next year.

Powered by lithium ion batteries, the Leaf can travel about 200 kilometers per charge. The zero-emission vehicle is priced at about 3.76 million yen, but buyers will pay less than 3 million yen once government subsidies are factored in.

Toyota Motor Corp. got a jump on the market for energy-efficient eco-cars in 1997, when it began selling its Prius gas-electric hybrid vehicle. Honda Motor Co. soon followed suit, and these two auto giants now hold the lion's share of the hybrid car market.

Latecomer Nissan hopes its Leaf will grab a slice of the eco-car market.

Battle for supremacy

Nissan is the second domestic carmaker to mass-produce electric vehicles, after Mitsubishi Motors Corp. started marketing its i-MiEV in summer last year.

Venture businesses in the United States and China have been lining up to join the electric vehicle fray. General Motors Co., which has recovered from bankruptcy, plans to put its Chevrolet Volt electric vehicle on the market.

The global auto industry has entered a period of major upheaval as early participants and latecomers scrap it out to become king of the car market.

Toyota and Honda have decided to launch electric vehicles in 2012. A major German maker also is scheduled to join the electric car market, heralding a new era for the vehicles.

Tighter domestic controls on exhaust gas emissions in U.S. and European markets have prompted many carmakers to accelerate development of electric vehicles--the poster boys for eco-friendly cars.

But electric vehicles still face many potholes on the road to mainstream use. They cost considerably more than hybrids--many of which now cost less than 2 million yen--and can only travel relatively short distances per charge. Few charging facilities are available at present, a major inconvenience for users.

Still room for improvement

Making lithium ion batteries more waterproof should be among improvements made to ensure electric vehicles can run safely under severe weather conditions.

Hybrid vehicles likely will stay front and center among eco-cars for the time being. It remains to be seen whether electric vehicles will eventually take over this role. Carmakers need to make technological innovations to improve electric vehicle performance.

Furthermore, installing more charging facilities across the nation is an urgent task. Government assistance will be indispensable for this.

Demand for electric vehicles will grow if they become more convenient to drive. This will make it possible for carmakers to cut electric vehicle prices, thereby giving momentum to their spread.

The crux of the competition among electric vehicles actually boils down to lithium ion batteries. Panasonic Corp. and Sony Corp., which are competing with South Korean makers, face a crucial moment in this regard.

We hope Japanese companies will flex their muscles and take the lead in this new market.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 6, 2010)
(2010年12月6日01時08分 読売新聞)

by kiyoshimat | 2010-12-07 07:21 | 英字新聞

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