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Mitsubishi to Try Once More With Battery-Powered Cars

The Japanese automaker says it is giving the vehicles to two energy companies for testing.

October 11, 2006|John O'Dell | Times Staff Writer

The battery-powered electric car isn't dead yet.

Mitsubishi Motors Corp. said in Tokyo today that it would introduce the third generation of its battery-powered electric car Oct. 23.

The research vehicle will be tested by two Japanese power companies beginning in January. The car is based on Mitsubishi's popular four-seat mini-car, the i.

Mitsubishi says the electric car has a top speed of 80 mph and can travel 80 to 100 miles on a single charge.

The car is to be introduced at an international alternative vehicle symposium in Yokohama, Japan.

Data collected during daily real-world use will be used to assess the commercial prospects of battery-powered electric cars, the company said.

Most major automakers have dumped that technology -- exemplified in this country by General Motors Corp.'s defunct EV-1 -- and instead are attempting to develop hydrogen-powered fuel-cell vehicles that use on-board electrochemical power plants to convert hydrogen to electricity.

Fuel-cell cars eliminate the need for bulky, heavy storage batteries and overnight recharging, but they require a system for manufacturing and selling fuel-grade hydrogen.

Mitsubishi said it had no plan to bring its electric car to the U.S.

But the company has been testing a pair of conventional gasoline-powered models of the minicar in Southern California for much of the last year.

The car, similar to the DaimlerChrysler Smart car, is smaller than the Honda Motor Co. Fit and Toyota Motor Corp. Yaris subcompacts and would probably have to be widened for the U.S. market.

Tim Tozer, Mitsubishi's top European executive, said the company couldn't market the current gasoline model in the U.S. or Europe because it was developed only as a right-hand-drive vehicle for Japan and a few Asian markets.

The next version, due in 2010 or 2011, could be developed for the U.S. and Europe as well, Tozer told reporters at the Paris Motor Show this month.

Although the only other major automaker still publicly working on mainstream battery-powered electric cars is Subaru, a unit of Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd. of Japan, a few smaller companies still are devoted to the technology.

Among them are Tesla Motors Inc. of San Carlos, Calif., which has developed a two-seat electric sports car; Global Electric Motorcars, a unit of DaimlerChrysler, which sells low-speed neighborhood electric vehicles built in Fargo, N.D.; Commuter Car Corp. of Seattle, marketing the two-seat Tango; and AC Propulsion Inc. of San Dimas, which is selling Toyota's Scion xB models converted from gasoline to battery-powered electric drive.

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john.odell@latimes.com

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