Sustaining in Japan

Nicolas Finck reports from “EVS22” in Japan where battery powered cars are an everyday sight and air quality is a prevalent issue, thanks to tough diesel regulations


Travelling to Japan is always a tricky one. First you have to offset (from your conscience - I don’t think planting trees is the right solution) 279 tonnes of CO2 generated by your 24-hour flight. Second, you need to combat jetlag, which, fortunately, I don’t suffer from. Third, you need to make yourself understood and avoid the “Lost in Translation” parallel. Then finally you need to remember what you came for and store up as much knowledge and ideas as you can, as this country is both fascinating and rewarding.

In my case I was visiting EVS22, the 22nd International Battery, Hybrid and Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle Symposium and Exposition held in Yokohama in October 2006. Having been to many conferences and shows over the last ten years, I was expecting a lot from a show held in the Prius’s homeland. Indeed, EVs21, in Monaco last year, was a success and generated a lot of attention and international visitors. However, bringing the show to Japan was a clever move.

Over three days spent walking up and down the alleys of the exhibition and attending as many conferences as possible (according to the organisers over 5,000 visitors were recorded on the last day alone), I saw a lot of students and pupils coming to visit the show, emphasising the importance that Japan places on educating the masses on the benefits of clean and sustainable transport. While the rest of the world is merely observing, Japan’s youth is growing up in a hybrid culture, leaving us to wonder; are we 10 years behind in the chase for an effective sustainable transport solution or are they 10 years in front?

Vehicle showcase - Toyota
Take for example Toyota, the show’s platinum sponsor. With the Prius, Crown Sedan, two 7-seaters, Alphard and Estima, its 4x4 Kluger and the RX400h, GS450h and LS600h from Lexus, it has eight hybrid models in its ECO Cars catalogue in Japan. It also boasts an impressive range of LPG/CNG trucks and hybrid diesel cargo trucks, while the Hijet Cargo Hybrid from Daihatsu Ecology Vans completes the list. All these vehicles are available for sale in Toyota showrooms across Japan.

Impressive you might think. “Business as usual” replies Toyota. In fact, they are already working on the next generation of plug-in hybrids. Masatami Takimoto, Toyota’s vice-president and EVs22 keynote speaker revealed: “For plug-ins, at present we are in the stage of basic research.” Takimoto added: “No alternative fuel can replace gasoline or diesel immediately, but hybrid plug-in and flex-fuel vehicles will be included in the choices.”

This forward thinking manufacturer’s display was dominated by the presence of the deep red FCX fuel cell vehicle, but the chassis mock-up on display at EVS22 had two high pressure tanks, whereas the new design uses just one with a capacity of 171-litres. The FCX concept is also equipped with a V-Flow fuel cell platform consisting of a compact, high-efficiency fuel cell stack arranged in an innovative centre-tunnel layout. This has allowed designers to create an elegant, low-riding, sedan form that would have been difficult to achieve in a conventional fuel cell vehicle. Honda confirms that it has 11 models leased in Japan and is targeting the Government’s fleet market.

On the hybrid front, Honda R&D engineer Fumio Anraku reported on the development of a high power inverter for the 2006 Civic Hybrid resulting in a 6 per cent boost in output current, a 47 per cent reduction in volume, and a 25 per cent reduction in weight compared to the previous year’s unit.

A broad range of electric drive vehicles featured at EVS22 from Nissan, including fuel cell vehicles and a diesel electric hybrid truck.  “After the Second World War, oil was very scarce but electricity was plentiful,” said a Nissan spokesperson. “Nissan noted that the Japanese government was encouraging EV development, and as a result produced the Tama electric car. The 2,425lb vehicle succeeded in bettering its catalogue specifications and demonstrated an in-service single-charge range of nearly 60 miles with lead acid batteries — which were mounted on rollers for fast exchange. In the 90s, Nissan was the first car manufacturer to release the world’s first lithium-ion battery powered vehicle – the Prairie Joy Electric Vehicle. Then came the ultra-small two-seater Hypermini, designed specifically for the urban commuter. And finally, Nissan revealed the Pivo concept vehicle in 1995 combining zero emission with an efficient packaging.”

An impressive display for the show’s Gold Sponsor, however, there is a definite lack of models for sale. In its statement for their 2006 sustainable report, Carlos Ghosn, Nissan’s CEO said: “I am on record as a sceptic where hybrids are concerned but there are customers who will pay a premium for greenness. Taking that perspective, Nissan will launch a hybrid version of the Altima in the US in early 2007.” An impressive display of solely battery powered vehicles also featured heavily.

Reva's Zephyr
India’s Reva Electric Car Company unveiled its new Zephyr convertible. Chetan Kumaar Maini, Reva’s deputy chairman revealed to GreenFleet that the two-seat vehicle, with a top speed of 50mph, will be available with standard lead acid (for single-charge range of about 50 miles), or optional lithium ion batteries in the UK by this summer. He described the car as “the quintessential, cute convertible” and added: “The Zephyr was created to provide our consumers with a trendy, fun car that is green and affordable.”

PML Flightlink
British flag-flying came courtesy of PML Flightlink which showcased one of its converted Mini Coopers. The company promoted its technology for high-efficiency motors and for power electronics, claiming acceleration of zero to 62mph in 4.5 seconds for the Mini QED (Quad Electric Drive). The car employs lithium polymer batteries from Korea’s Kokam and ultra-capacitors from San Diego’s Maxwell Technologies — both of which also displayed at EVS22. Martin Boughtwood, PML’s director said the company was looking for partners to invest money in order to mass- produce the car.

With its Miev (Mitsubishi Innovative Electric Vehicle), Mitsubishi, using the “i” minicar’s rear-midship layout platform, has built a research vehicle filled with innovative technology, including lithium-ion batteries and a small high performance motor. It has a range of 160kms and using a quick charger the car can be recharged in 20 minutes. Mitsubishi said: “For the diffusion of electric vehicles, infrastructure development is as important as developing the car itself.” Come autumn it will begin fleet testing in order to verify the vehicle’s technical capabilities. Sales in Japan are expected to begin in 2010.

With the R1e, Subaru is following a similar path to Mitsubishi. Both companies are actually working with Tokyo’s TEPCO utility company, which now has 240 electric vehicles. TEPCO plans to replace approximately 3,000 of its 5,000 small vehicles with EVs according to mobile technology group manager Takafumi Anegawa. The R1e is another minicar as Subaru believes that a personal compact electric car is the most suitable mobility for environmentally friendly city life.

To sum up
As expected, this show exceeded my expectations. The sheer quality and number of electric and hybrid vehicles on display was breathtaking. You could also feel a real commitment from the Japanese car manufacturers to actually build cleaner vehicles to improve cities’ air quality. These cars will be on the Japanese roads within the next two years. How long will it be before we see them on ours?

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