Carmakers in Japan, the United States, China and South Korea have become serious about mass production of electric cars. Japanese makers are on the leading edge in technologies for motors, high-quality and high-capacity batteries, and electronic control parts.
It is hoped that they will widen their lead and help spread the use of electric cars, although power shortages caused by the Fukushima nuclear power plant crisis since the March 11 earthquake is a negative factor.
As many countries strengthen regulations for automobile emissions, electric car manufacturing can become an important eco-friendly industry. But sales of electric cars are expected to increase only at a gradual pace since their prices are still high compared with ordinary cars.
The distance such cars can cover with one recharge is not long while rapid-recharge stations are few in number.
It will be imperative that both the government and the private sector improve infrastructure for electric cars. If crude oil prices remain high, electric cars will be able to compete with ordinary cars on an equal footing. Cheaper night-time electricity bills can make the energy cost of electric cars cheaper than that for ordinary cars.
Since the structure of electric cars is simpler than that of ordinary cars, it will be easy for companies from other fields to enter the business of manufacturing electric cars. There is the possibility, for example, that former subcontractors for large carmakers will enter the new field.
Nissan started selling the five-seat electric hatchback Leaf in December. It has a plan to produce 50,000 units of the car in fiscal 2011.
Other carmakers are also making efforts. In April 2010, Mitsubishi started selling the i MiEV electric cars to individuals. Until then, the cars were sold only to corporate users.
Toyota plans to start selling the iQ microcar in Japan, the United States and Europe and Honda both a plugged-in hybrid car and an electric car in Japan and the United States in 2012.
Mazda plans to start leasing an electric car based on its Demio subcompact to firms and local governments in the spring of 2012.
China and South Korea are strengthening government supportive measures for electric car makers. Japan should take necessary steps to enable Japanese makers to retain their competitive edge.