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Mazda, Think, EnerDel partner on electric rentals

The Japanese automaker plans to use EnerDel batteries and a Think Global drivetrain for an all-electric Mazda2 rental car test program near Tokyo similar to that of Zipcar.

Mazda, EnerDel, Think Global, and others are partnering on a test project that will pair all-electric cars with stationary storage units as charging stations, EnerDel and Mazda announced this past week.

Mazda plans to convert some of its Mazda2 vehicles (known as the Mazda Demios in Japan) to all-electric cars running a Think drivetrain with EnerDel lithium ion batteries.

The Mazda2 (called the Demios in Japan) is expected to become available in the United States in 2010. Mazda

The cars will be offered to Japanese customers through a rental car program, called the Tsukuba Environmental Style Test Project, which should be up and running by March 2010 in Tsukuba City, Japan, near Tokyo, according to Mazda.

U.S. battery manufacturer EnerDel has described the test project as the Japanese equivalent to Zipcar in the States, a program in which customers join a car club that offers car rentals on an hourly or daily basis.

Instead of recharging stations tapping directly into a smart grid, those in the Tsukuba test project will use stationary grid storage units also developed by EnerDel. The stationary storage units will enable the rapid charging of the all-electric Mazda2 cars, while avoiding the possibility of having to tap into a smart grid during peak usage hours.

"The unique combination of on-site battery storage with rapid charging allows the use of direct current throughout the system, sharply reducing the amount of time needed to charge a vehicle," according to a statement from EnerDel.

The recharging stations, which will draw from solar panels as well as grid power, will be located at Family Mart convenience stores in the Tsukuba City area.

Itochu, a Japanese conglomerate that has partnered with EnerDel on energy projects since 2003, owns the Family Mart chain. It was through a partnership with Itochu that EnerDel and Think Global converted and tested a fleet of trucks to all-electric vehicles for the Japanese Postal Service.