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Japanese town to test solar-to-electric cars

Mazda, EnerDel, Think Global, and others are trying to create a renewable automotive energy community.

Mazda2 cars, known as the Mazda Demio in Japan, have been converted to all-electric drive trains. Mazda

A Japanese town near Tokyo is about to become a test community for cars that run mainly on solar energy, several companies announced Wednesday.

Through a partnership with Mazda, Think Global, EnerDel, and Japanese conglomerate Itochu among others, Tsukuba City will be testing cars that rely on solar-generated electricity for their batteries, which will be rapid-charged at stations at local FamilyMart stores.

Mazda2 vehicles (known as the Mazda Demio in Japan) have been outfitted with all-electric drive trains made by Think containing EnerDel lithium ion batteries.

Solar panels attached to stationary grid-storage units designed by EnerDel will also have rapid-charging stations for the all-electric cars. The stationary storage units, gleaning and storing electricity from solar panels, will supply almost entirely solar-generated electricity for the cars.

The Japanese community is testing use of the Mazda2 EVs with a ZipCar business model through a program announced in December. Drivers will have smart cards that will be used for billing, tracking charges and wear, and for granting access to the cars and charging stations.

EnerDel said that combining battery storage units with rapid re-charging stations will allow for the use of direct current, which is designed to sharply reduce the amount of time it takes the car batteries to charge.