Ministry sets stage for debut, big use of ultracompact cars


The transport ministry has unveiled guidelines sketching out the definition and use of ultracompact vehicles — which are big enough for only one or two people — to help reduce carbon levels.

Officials said Monday they hope the guidelines will serve as a reference for automakers and municipalities promoting such vehicles, which the ministry sees as most suitable for the elderly and tourists.

The ministry plans to establish a certification program by next March that will define specifications and safety standards, envisioning the cars will be mass-produced in the foreseeable future.

While such vehicles are currently barred from public roads in principle, it is expected they will eventually be approved for short trips.

In the guidelines, ultracompacts are defined as cars that are more compact and environmentally friendly than conventional automobiles and can carry one or two people.

They occupy a category between minivehicles, with engine displacements of up to 660cc, and mopeds with engines of up to 55cc.

The guidelines also state the need for municipal measures to promote the use of ultracompacts, urging local authorities to help develop dedicated parking lots at shopping arcades and public facilities.

Such vehicles are being developed by Nissan Motor Co. and Daihatsu Motor Co.

Car-to-home power


Toyota Motor Corp. said it has developed a system that supplies power from plug-in hybrid vehicles to homes and vice versa.

The auto giant is slated to add the system to its pilot project of environmentally friendly “smart houses” in Toyota, Aichi Prefecture, starting at year’s end.

Toyota believes the new system can alleviate the impact of expected power shortages after all of the nation’s nuclear reactors were halted because of the Fukushima crisis.

Using the system, electricity is stored in plug-in hybrids at night when utilities usually have sufficient supply capacities, while stored power is fed to homes in peak power consumption hours during the day. The system includes an inverter aboard the vehicle and a dedicated stand for charging and discharging.

Toyota has also proposed using the system during blackouts, with the vehicle supplying electricity generated by its engine to houses. A Prius plug-in hybrid with a fully charged battery and a full tank of gasoline can cover power use by an average household for about four days, according to Toyota.

The company is set to start marketing the Prius PHV, to which an optional inverter can be fitted, by the end of the year.

No progress in trade talks


Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Yukio Edano and U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk reportedly failed Monday to narrow differences over Japan’s car, insurance and beef markets.

These three sectors have been targeted for liberalization by the United States in the slow-moving preliminary talks on Japan’s participation in Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade negotiations.

Edano and Kirk apparently couldn’t settle on ways to push ahead with the negotiations, sources said.

The two were in Kazan to attend a meeting of trade ministers from the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum nations.

After the talks, Edano said he and Kirk confirmed that Japan and the United States “will continue discussing the issues in a forward-looking manner.”

Washington has repeatedly pointed to demands from domestic industries and lawmakers for further opening of the three key sectors.