Mitsubishi Targets Commercial Electric Vehicle Segment

As of now we rarely see electric cars on streets, and it may take some years for electric vehicles to become commonplace to be seen every day on streets and parking lots.  But Mr. Osamu Masuko, President of Mitsubishi Motors sees a big promise for electrical vehicles and a potential demand for these vehicles in the commercial vehicles market.  This sector is not yet specifically targeted by Mitsubishi or Nissan – its biggest rival in Japan.  Would the Electric Cars (EVs) become a boon for Commercial Vehicle segment? Let us explore the possibilities of using EVs in the commercial vehicle market soon.

mitsubishi miev

Mitsubishi Motors is the sixth largest auto maker by volume in Japan, and it was the first car maker in the world to mass produce electric vehicles when it rolled out its small passenger electric car i-MiEV, designed for driving in cities.  Mr. Masuko recently  speaking at an auto event, mentioned that most commercial vehicles including trucks and vans, on an average run fixed distances every day that are well below the distance that can be covered by an electric vehicle on a single charge.

Passenger cars on the other hand may need to cover more distances on day trips or holidays.  Mitsubishi’s electric car i-MiEV, for example does about 160 km before needing a recharge;  which may be good enough distance for an electric vehicle, but may not be suitable for longer distances as in a significant day trip.  Availability of country-wide recharging stations would be necessary for the success of Electric Vehicles.  Nissan, therefore plans to install charging equipment at its 2,000+ dealers in Japan, before launching its Leaf electric car in December this year.

If the electric car makers themselves are not seizing this initiative on taking advantage of electric vehicles in the commercial vehicle market, others have already started thinking on those lines.  For instance, Yamato Transport Co., a package delivery services company in Japan, unveiled delivery services in Tokyo on a trial basis using a Mitsbishi prototype electric van fitted with motor and batteries for i-MiEV.  As per Yamato Transport Co.’s spokesperson, typically Yamato’s delivery service vehicles run about 30 km daily in Tokyo area, and the nationwide average is about 60 km.  These distances are short enough and hence Yamato would be able to deliver packages using Mitsubishi electric vans without having to worry about the batteries running low.

Mitsubishi Motors has plans to start production of electric vans on a mass scale for corporate customers.  Mitsubishi  would start producing these commercial electric vehicles by the end of 2011, targeting annual sales of roughly 10,000 vehicles in Japan.  Moreover, Mitsubishi Motors also has plans to take benefit of the shorter distance requirement forcommercial electric vehicles to lower prices.  Mitsbishi plans to achieve this by reducing the number of batteries to shorten the running distance to around 100 km.   Mitsubishi plans to sell the electric van for commercial use for about Y2 million, almost half the price of the i-MiEV passenger car version.

Google’s Self Driving Car

Google Inc, the largest search engine in the world has been recently dabbling with altogether different technology and has come up with a futuristic car that can drive by itself.  The main objective of Google is to assist in preventing collisions and traffic accidents, freeing up people’s time, and also controlling pollution by reducing carbon emission through proper use of cars.

Google believes that today people want the same ease of use with their cas that they have with their personal computers and mobile phones.  And so Google wants to automate the operation of car controls rather than leaving them in the hands of distracted drivers – allowing them to do whatever they wish – eat food, apply makeup or text message to their heart’s content.

More than 1.2 million people die in road traffic accidents every year, according to World Health Organization.  Google believes that its driver-less car technology offers the promise to reduce the accidents by as much as by 50%.  And people spend on average 52 minutes each working day commuting as per the United States Department of Transportation.  Google believes that people can spend that time in a more productive way!

The self driven cars being developed by Google employ  radar sensors, video cameras, and a laser based range finder to judge the distance from other cars and see cars, signals and other objects in traffic.  The cars also use detailed maps for navigating the road ahead. This concept is not very new.  In fact, the Japanese car maker Nissan has been testing collision avoiding cars and their Eporo robot for quite some time.

As a matter of fact, Google has already tested their automated cars on California rodaways with heavy traffic – including busy city streets, bridges and highways.  These cars have also successfully navigated the most dramatically winding street – Lombard Street in San Francisco.  As per Google’s recent announcement, its self driving cars have logged over 140,000 miles  driving around the San Fransisco Bay area.  In all the test runs, Google had a driver behind the wheel to take control if needed.  Taking the control is as easy as disengaging a cruise control, as per Google.  The self driven cars on the test also had a trained programmer in the passenger seat for monitoring the software program.

Google’s project is still in the experimental stage and Google just wanted to give a glimpse of how cars in the future would work.  So if you are willing to buy such a self-driving car, you may have to wait for a long time.  It also remains to see how Google’s investors would treat these experiments as Google has recently missed earnings estimates published by Wall Street.

It would be also interesting to see what Google would gain from these self driving cars.  It is obvious that ad-serving GPS, Android-powered car interfaces and Internet connected cars would give an advantage to Google, but it is also evident that Google has invested a fair chunk of money in cars whose computers do a lot more to affect the lifestyle of people worldwide.

Honda unveils Fit Hybrid in Japan

Honda Motor Co announced this week that it would sell its Fit subcompact’s hybrid version for 1.59 million yen in Japan.  Honda claims that its Fit hybrid is going to be the cheapest car in gasoline-electric segment in the domestic market.  This is approximately 170,000 yen more than the conventional Honda Fit and 340,000 yen less than the Honda Insight.

Honda Motors has taken this step to meet the huge demand for fuel-efficient cars all over the world and to compete with the hybrid segment car leader Toyota which would produce a small hybrid car from 2012 at its factory in France.

honda fit hybrid

Honda Insight was the top-selling model in Japan last year, but now domestic car rankings of Insight is below 20th place,  in spite of the generous tax breaks on hybrids.  Hence, Honda needs the Fit to succeed after the Insight, its last gasoline-electric model in domestic hybrid market.  The demand for the Insight by Honda plunged 69 percent as compared to fall in deliveries of Toyota Prius which is top-selling car in Japan.

The Honda Fit hybrid gets 30 km per liter as per Japanese testing methods which compares with the mileage of Honda Insight.  Again the signature spacious cabin of the Fit has made its gasoline version a constant top seller.  The rear suspension layout and the fuel tank in the Fit hybrid allows a multiple-mode seating system.  The Fit could be the Honda’s first possibility to get it all right for the fuel efficiency, technology, design, and price.  As per claims made by Honda, the Fit hybrid’s 1.3-liter engine assisted by an electric motor delivers performance equivalent to a 1.5-liter car.

According to auto experts, the car sales in Japan may fall by 23 % in the next six months due to the end of incentives given to hybrid cars in the country.  However, according to Honda, 10,000 orders have been placed for the Fit hybrid.  As the Fit is currently the cheapest hybrid car in the Japanese market, it is expected to boost the sales of hybrid cars even after the subsidy for fuel- efficient cars ends.

Honda has no plans about launching Fit Hybrid in the United States; however, Honda plans to launch the model for sale in Europe as the Honda Jazz Hybrid in early 2011.  The standard gasoline-powered Honda Fit is manufactured in the United Kingdom.  However Honda needs to get the batteries locally so as to make their European manufacturing of the hybrid version possible.  Currently Osaka-based Sanyo Electric Co makes the nickel-metal hydride battery required for this car.

The Honda Fit Hybrid will be the most affordable and cheapest Hybrid vehicle in Japan’s domestic market.

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