PARIS--Although overshadowed by the flood of hybrids, electric vehicles are winning converts at the world's automakers.
No gasoline backup engine. No onboard generator. And, their advocates add, no emissions.
At last week's Paris auto show, automakers showed off the new wave of electric cars.
True, some were from tiny companies, and some were enhanced golf carts made to putter around gated communities. But Nissan, Mitsubishi, Subaru, Smart and coachbuilder Heuliez showed vehicles designed for general use.
Though electrics won't hit the mainstream for several years, proponents fiercely argue that they will eventually win significant market share.
Introducing the Nissan Nuvu electric concept, product chief Carlos Tavares said Nissan will roll out electric vehicles in 2010 and sell them globally in 2012.
"They will be real cars meeting the diverse needs of drivers globally," said Tavares, Nissan's executive vice president for corporate and product planning.
Automakers and governments will move to electrics because they are zero-emission vehicles, Tavares said. "We are all on the same mission. The ultimate goal is zero emissions."
Government, utilities are key
Kenichiro Wada, project manager for the Mitsubishi MiEV, sees electric vehicles holding a 10 percent to 15 percent global market share within a decade, with higher rates in Japan and Europe. Vehicles like the MiEV are feasible now, he said.
"This is the future--this is the real future," Wada said. "Some automakers only provide a mock-up. Mock-ups have no meaning. You can drive this today."
The MiEV probably will be sold in the United States by 2011 or 2012. He said that quick battery-charging technology, which can restore 80 percent of a battery's charge within 30 minutes, will overcome limited range--electrics' flaw in the past. The MiEV has a range of about 100 miles in mixed driving conditions, and about 75 miles in city driving.
But to build recharging infrastructure, Wada cautioned, "We need some support from the government, from the power companies."
Pitt Moos, product manager for Smart electric drive vehicles, said that some obstacles are less daunting than they seem. He dismissed quick-charging, saying it wears down batteries. Most recharging will take place at vehicle owners' homes, Moos said.
Because battery-powered electric cars can be plugged into the electric grid, they have an advantage over fuel cell vehicles, which require a new hydrogen infrastructure, he said.
"For electric vehicles, the infrastructure is there," Moos said.
Parent company Daimler plans a limited run of Smart electrics next year, with broader production by 2012. Moos said Smart sees electrics as city cars, with a 60-mile range that meets the daily driving needs of 90 percent of motorists.
"If you need to make a longer run, don't use an electric car," Moos said. "Use something else."
Tavares said that Nissan plans a mix of strategies to deal with different driving patterns. Charging at home and charging stations in long-term parking areas will play a major role, he said.
Nissan also envisions swaps in which batteries are leased to customers. When taking long trips, they will be able to stop at service stations to swap a depleted battery for a fresh one.
"As a customer, you are not concerned about 'Is this battery reliable? Will it run out?' " Tavares said. "We take care of that."
(Via: Automotive News)