YOKOHAMA — SIM-Drive Corp., a Kawasaki-based industrial-academic startup firm, announced Wednesday it has launched a project to develop a new electric vehicle model with a much-lighter body made of chemical materials, which the firm says can drive longer on a single charge.

The project is aimed at developing a prototype within a year for license to manufacturers. It is the latest move in the fierce race to develop affordable electric vehicles.

SIM-Drive was formed in 2009 by Hiroshi Shimizu, a Keio University engineering professor, and several businessmen, including Soichiro Fukutake, chairman of education firm Benesse Holdings Inc. and Kenichi Hatori, chairman of used car firm Gulliver International Co.

The firm will be cooperating with 34 other companies, including several chemical firms, such as Toray Industries Inc. and Du Pont. They also include taxi service Tokyo MK Corp. The vehicle runs with electric motors built within wheels, which the firm says can transfer power more efficiently than conventional EV systems and create more interior space.

The retail price of the latest, lighter model is expected to be around ¥1.5 million, excluding batteries, the company said. SIM-Drive has already been working on its first in-wheel vehicle, which is set to be unveiled in March.

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