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Japan taps Better Place for electric car charging

Better Place, Mitsubishi, Subaru, and Honda will participate in trial to test network of electric car charging stations at government buildings to promote electric car sales.

Japan's Ministry of the Environment announced a program on Tuesday to test electric vehicles and a network of charging stations, some supplied by auto start-up Better Place.

The electric vehicle feasibility study will give local governments access to 50 electric cars for several months. Cars included are Mitsubishi Motors' iMiev, the Plug-in Stella from Subaru, the Honda Clarity fuel-cell vehicle, and the Erezo electric motorbike under development.

Better Place will install battery exchange stations in the trial. The deal in Japan is similar to those made recently with several countries, the city of San Francisco, and the state of Hawaii that have signed on with Better Place, which has developed a system to accelerate electric car use through battery leasing and automated swapping.

The trial is part of Japan's national goal of having electric cars make up half of all new vehicle sales by 2020. The program will also include a facility for rapid car battery charging.

Automakers say they need an infrastructure, such as charging stations in public places, for their electric car programs to take hold.

The first electric versions of familiar sedans from the likes of Nissan and others will start becoming available in 2010, but they will largely be used for testing. Broader availability of these cars will be in 2011 and 2012.