All-electric car gets boost in Japan

Subaru's R1e concept car uses lithium batteries, seats four and produces zero pollutants.
Subaru's R1e concept car uses lithium batteries, seats four and produces zero pollutants.Subaru
/ Source: staff and news service reports

Japan's biggest power company is teaming up with Subaru's parent company to develop environmentally friendly electric vehicles that can travel up to 50 miles on a single charge.

Fuji Heavy Industries will provide Tokyo Electric Power Co. with 10 vehicles based on its Subaru R1e minicar, and TEPCO will develop a recharger that works in about 15 minutes, the companies said last Friday.

TEPCO plans to use the new experimental electric vehicles as company cars. If they operate well, TEPCO aims to replace about 3,000 of its company vehicles with electric vehicles as early as 2008, the companies said.

Last month, Fuji announced plans to take on car giant Toyota with the zero-emissions minicar, which stores electric power in lithium batteries — the kind used in cell phones, laptops and digital cameras.

Fuji announced plans to conduct road tests in Japan this year of the Subaru R1e, an 11-foot-long concept electric vehicle first shown in 2003.

It did not provide a firm date for bringing the four-seat car to market, but President Kyoji Takenaka said “electric vehicles could establish a certain presence if we developed technology to charge batteries overnight.”

Takenaka added that with the Subaru R1e model, Fuji Heavy is ready to challenge Toyota Motor Corp. and other rivals leading in technologies for hybrid electric-gasoline or fuel-cell vehicles.

The lithium-ion batteries, co-developed by a joint venture of Fuji Heavy and NEC Corp., only take five minutes to be charged 90 percent, the company said. The car can be driven nearly 100,000 miles before the battery pack needs to be replaced.

Subaru says the vehicle can be plugged into the same type of AC outlet used for large home air conditioners.

In its press literature, Subaru describes the R1e as a vehicle “designed to appeal to singles or young couples living in congested cities.”

The announcement follows a similar move by Mitsubishi Motors to sell an electric car in Japan by 2010.