TOKYO--Two new challengers from Japan have joined the race for electric vehicles.
Both companies are stepping up the zero-emissions mantra as Japanese rivals Nissan Motor Co. and Mitsubishi Motors Corp. push ahead on what many see as the future of automobiles.
Nissan plans U.S.-fleet sales of an electric vehicle in 2010. Mitsubishi is eyeing a 2010 launch of its electric iMiEV in Japan, followed by Europe and the United States.
Toyota President Katsuaki Watanabe announced the company's electric-vehicle plans last month at Toyota's annual business strategy meeting. Details were sparse, but R&D chief Masatami Takimoto said the car's range would be limited by the performance of today's batteries.
"For the time being, the most realistic approach is to use pure electric vehicles for short-distance travel," Takimoto said. "So in the early stage of the 2010s, we would like to offer a compact, very small electric vehicle on a small-scale basis."
Toyota has been testing its ultracompact E-com since 1999. But the bubble-shaped runabout seats only two, a load deemed impractical by most electric vehicle contenders.
The offerings of Nissan and Mitsubishi each will seat at least four.
Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd., parent of Subaru, is basing next year's electric vehicle on the Stella, a minivehicle sold in Japan with a 660cc engine. It will also seat four and run on lithium ion batteries.
Fuji Heavy will source its lithium ion batteries from Automotive Energy Supply Corp., a joint venture set up last year by Nissan, electronics giant NEC Corp., and NEC Tokin Corp.
The plug-in Stella Concept can cover 50 miles on a single charge, and its battery can be fully recharged in eight hours through a household socket.
"For city commuting, this is enough," Fuji Heavy spokesman Shin-ichi Murata says. "This is the best we can do with today's technology at a reasonable cost."
Fuji Heavy is targeting fleet sales of up to 200 units during the car's first year. Stella leasing will begin in Japan, but the company has no immediate plans to bring it overseas.