Posted by: Kenji Hall on June 5, 2009
The launch of Honda’s Insight gas-electric hybrid car in February led to talk of a war against Toyota’s new Prius. The rivalry has boosted hybrid sales. Last month, hybrids accounted for 12% of Japan’s new-car market, a higher proportion than the 4% share hybrids had here last year. (In May, the new Prius and Insight ranked first and second in sales in Japan, respectively.)
But what about electric vehicles?
This week, Fuji Heavy Industries began selling the Stella plug-in electric minicar under the Subaru brand for 4.72 million yen ($48,650). Also this week, Mitsubishi Motors said it would sell its i MiEV compact electric vehicle for around 4.6 million yen ($47,400) to businesses beginning in July and to ordinary consumers in April 2010.
But don’t expect electric cars to get anywhere close to the sales numbers that hybrids are now enjoying. Both companies will only be selling limited supplies for now (Subaru expects to sell 170 cars this fiscal year, while Mitsubishi could sell up to 1,400). And despite government subsidies of around 1.38 million yen ($14,200) per car they’re still pricier and smaller than a hybrid. What’s more, neither car goes very far on a single charge: Subaru’s Stella goes just 90 km (55 miles) on a single charge, while Mitsubishi’s i MiEV can travel 160 km (100 miles). Both models are mostly limited to a short commute to the office or a quick dash to get milk at the grocery store.
Both can be recharged by plugging them into an ordinary electric socket at home. Subaru’s tiny four-seater takes 8 hours to charge using a standard 100-volt socket, five hours at 200 volts or, with a supercharger, around 15 minutes (to 80% battery capacity). Some Japanese builders are even marketing homes equipped with plugs in the driveway for electric vehicles.