Japanese automakers to accelerate the push for electric vehicles | Asia | An in-depth look at current events from across the continent | DW

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In front of hundreds of journalists and Nissan dealers from across Japan, Hiroto Saikawa took the stage at Makuhari Messe Convention Hall on September 6 and unveiled the car that takes electric vehicles (EVs) to a new level and highlights the ambitions of Japanese automakers in the zero-emission market.

“Nissan is proud to be a pioneer in electric vehicles,” Saikawa said. “The launch of the new Nissan Leaf comes at a time when the world is moving towards the era of electric vehicles.

“This is definitely a great opportunity and we intend to make the most of it,” he said.

The Leaf’s latest evolution, some seven years after the launch of the first-generation vehicle that bears that name, incorporates autonomous driving and parking technologies – but it’s the powertrain that has garnered the most attention.

The vehicle has a range of 400 kilometers, a significant increase over the range of 117 kilometers of the first Leaf, as well as an output of 110 kilowatts, an improvement over the initial 80 kilowatts.

Right moment

The timing of the vehicle’s unveiling was opportune, given that European countries like France and Britain had recently announced plans to completely end the sale of gasoline and diesel cars by 2040 as part of their plans. efforts to reduce pollution and carbon emissions.

More importantly, four days after the Tokyo event, China’s Ministry of Industry announced that it was preparing a timetable to end the production and sale of traditional internal combustion engine cars in order to expand the electrical technology.

No specific date has been set for the Chinese initiative, but the announcement is said to be meant to pressure domestic companies to step up their research and development of electric vehicles. Inevitably, the initiative in the world’s largest car market will also provide opportunities for Japanese car manufacturers.

John R. Harris, a longtime automotive writer, says the industry is quickly approaching a “point of no return” and it is crucial for Japanese automakers to be on the forefront of change technological.

“When the first Leaf came out the battery cost was around $ 750 per kilowatt hour, but it’s dropped to around $ 300 per kilowatt hour today and we’re quickly approaching the point – estimated at around $ 160 per kilowatt hour. – where electric vehicles become cheaper than traditional gasoline engines, ”he told DW.

“Much less to break”

“And we have to remember that an electric car no longer needs so many expensive parts that make up a conventional engine – the engine block, gas tank, transmission, exhaust system – and that there is so much less in a car electric motor that can break, ”he said.

Toyota Motor Corp. was an early leader in the electric vehicle market, launching the Prius Hybrid in 1997 and improved variants in subsequent years. As of January 2017, the company had recorded cumulative worldwide sales of 6.1 million units, although the company appears to be focusing its new development strategies on hydrogen as a fuel.

Honda Motor Co. was also one of the early champions of electric vehicles, producing the first EV Plus in 1997. But just as rivals began to accelerate research and development of electric powertrains, Honda began to hold back and turn to hydrogen. cars.

By the time it returned to plug-ins, it had slipped behind its competition.

Another Japanese automaker, Mazda Motor Corp, has tried another tactic by investing in modernizing conventional engines to produce the SkyActiv powertrain.

Significantly, Toyota bought a significant stake in Mazda this year, just as it did with Subaru a few years ago.

Harris believes the purchases may have been intended to discourage well-funded but newbie automakers in the United States, such as automaker Tesla Inc., from taking over “a company that really knows how to mass-produce cars. High quality”.

Strengthening US operations

Following the agreement, Toyota and Mazda quickly announced their intention to strengthen their operations in the United States, with an investment of $ 1.6 billion in a new production plant and the creation of 4,000 new jobs.

The Prius Hybrid will not meet new requirements for zero-emission cars in California that take effect in 2018, so the company is expected to launch its first fully electric vehicle in 2020. It is also considering mass production of electric vehicles in 2020. China from the start. like 2019.

But Nissan seems to have a head start with the Leaf.

“We were the first to launch a consumer electric vehicle, with the first generation of Leaf, and the seven years since have given us market experience, knowledge of the likes and dislikes of our customers, we helped improve technology and determine what the next generation should be capable of, ”said Nick Maxfield, spokesperson for the Yokohama-based company.

“We have accumulated a lot of know-how on the design and development side and we are actively looking to expand the range of electric vehicles that we produce,” he said.

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