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Mitsubishi Motors ready to test electric mini-cars

From Bloomberg| March 13,2007

Mitsubishi Motors Corp., Japan's sixth-largest automaker, will begin testing electric minicars in cooperation with the country's utility companies in an effort to start selling them by 2010.

The automaker today provided an i MIEV, or i Mitsubishi In-wheel motor Electric Vehicle to Tokyo Electric Power Co., Asia's largest power producer, the companies said in a release.

Mitsubishi Motors, which expects to report its first profit in four years, is developing electric cars as tighter emission laws force drivers to seek more fuel-efficient vehicles. Tokyo Electric is also working with Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd. to start selling its R1e electric cars as early as 2009.

"Development of electric cars is a symbol," Tetsuro Aikawa, managing director at Tokyo-based Mitsubishi Motors, said at a press conference in Yokohama, south of Tokyo today. "We will work with other companies and related ministries to create a society that's less harmful to the environment."

Tokyo Electric will add 30 of Fuji Heavy's electric cars in May in addition to the 10 units that it already uses for testing, executive officer Kiyoshi Goto said. The utility company said it will also start to test 10 Mitsubishi Motors' electric cars on the road later this year.

Shares of Mitsubishi Motors were unchanged at 190 yen as of 1:45 p.m. on the Tokyo Stock Exchange. Tokyo Electric shares rose 0.7 percent to 4,170 yen.

Mitsubishi Motors' i MIEV, powered with a lithium-ion battery, will be able to travel as far as 160 kilometers on a single charge by the time the automaker supplies 10 units, compared with the current capability of 130 kilometers, the company said. Fuji Heavy's R1e used at the Tokyo Electric can travel as far as 80 kilometers.

Tokyo Electric, which owns about 8,300 vehicles for business use, will also study replacing about 3,000 compact cars powered with 1.5-liter gasoline engines or smaller with electric cars starting in the next business year from April.

"The shift will take about six years, as we plan to change 500 units every year, Tokyo Electric's Goto said today at the briefing.

The power producer estimates it will save about 170 million yen ($1.4 million) a year in fuel costs and reduce emissions of carbon dioxide by about 2,600 metric tons annually, if the company replaces its fleet with about 3,000 electric cars, it said today. (Bloomberg)

Mitsubishi Motors also provided electric minicars to Kyushu Electric Power Co. today. Kansai Electric Power Co. and Hokuriku Electric Power Co. will also participated in tests of Mitsubishi Motors' electric vehicles in the second half of this year.

The automaker is aiming to improve the vehicle to be able to run 200 kilometers "in the future," Aikawa said. The company also aims to reduce the price with subsidies from the government to be below 2 million yen to attract consumers, he said without saying how much it costs now.

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