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Thursday, April 1, 2010

New electric vehicle has Japanese queuing

Japan's first mass-market electric car went on sale in showrooms Thursday as the futuristic technology becomes more affordable amid a burgeoning price war.

The four-seater bubble-shaped i-MiEV from Mitsubishi Motors Corp., Japan's fifth-biggest automaker, costs 2.8 million yen ($30,500) after government incentives are figured into the price of 4 million yen ($43,000).

Proud i-MiEV buyer Chitoshi Okunuki, 72, placed an advance order at a higher price in August and was thrilled at Mitsubishi's decision Tuesday to cut the price by 620,000 yen ($6,700). That came the same day rival Nissan Motor Co. announced it will take orders for its own electric car, the Leaf.

"I'm so happy," said Okunuki, who runs a convenience store, during a visit to a Mitsubishi showroom. "It's so quiet, and there are no emissions."

With concerns about the environment growing, electric vehicles — long an expensive, experimental technology used in Japan mainly by government-related groups — are suddenly all the rage.

The key to their becoming widespread is certain to be pricing, and that is likely to continue a downward slide as competition intensifies.

Nissan, Japan's No. 3 automaker, said the Leaf, due to go on sale in December, will cost 3.8 million yen ($40,500) but that will fall to 3 million yen ($32,000) with government incentives.

The Leaf gets even cheaper in the U.S. at just over $25,000 because of a $7,500 federal tax credit for electric vehicles.

Mitsubishi says it got about 2,000 advance orders in Japan for the i-MiEV, which stands for Mitsubishi innovative Electric Vehicle. It is based on the company's gasoline-powered "i" minicar.

Also this week, Chinese automaker BYD started retail sales of its new electric car, the F3DM, for the equivalent of $25,000.

Ford Motor Co. is planning an all-electric Focus compact car for sale in late 2011.

Toyota Motor Corp., the world's biggest automaker, is planning an electric car for 2012. Prices have not been announced, but they are likely to be more within reach than the two-seater Tesla Roadster's $100,000.

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