The mobility rEVolution: Nissan, Mitsubishi launch mini EVs for Japan


Once leaders in the Japanese EV market, legacy carmakers Nissan and Mitsubishi are now searching for ways to secure their share in the face of growing competition from fast-growing newcomers such as Tesla. On Friday, the two car manufacturers have unveiled their first jointly developed new Kei, or mini EV, looking to lower production costs and expand their offerings of this type of light vehicle unique to the Japanese market.

Limited to 3.4 meters in length, 1.48 meters in width and 2.0 meters in height, mini vehicles are said to account for 40% of the Japanese market. “Under planning and development management by NMKV, a joint venture of Nissan and Mitsubishi Motors, the Kei EV has not only integrated Nissan’s advanced technologies with Mitsubishi Motors’ expertise in manufacturing Kei cars, but also the two companies’ combined electrification technologies,” the companies said in a statement. The new car will be sold under their respective brand names. Nissan will offer its first light EV, the Sakura, starting at about JPY 1.78 million ($13,891) after factoring in a government subsidy, and with a range of 180 km. Meanwhile, Mitsubishi Motors will release the “eK cross EV” starting from JPY 1.85 million, including the subsidy, also with a range of 180 km. Both automakers said they would start selling their new line-up of electric Kei cars this summer.

But even as they expand their EV portfolios and up the ante on new battery technologies, Japanese carmakers are found to be the least prepared for a zero-emissions vehicle transition compared with their global competitors, according to research released this week from climate think tank InfluenceMap.

The three biggest Japanese manufacturers – Toyota, Nissan and Honda are the biggest laggards, followed by South Korea’s Hyundai and General Motors in the US. According to the study, which is based on IHS Markit’s forecasts to 2029, just 14% of Toyota’s worldwide production is expected to be battery-electric vehicles, rising to 18% for Honda and 22% for Nissan. The study also found that Tesla and Mercedes-Benz are the only firms out of 12 big manufacturers which are on course to shift to zero-emissions vehicles in line with climate goals.

With zero emissions transport key to the world’s decarbonization efforts, the International Energy Agency has calculated that 57.5% of global car sales must be zero-emission vehicles by 2030 if global heating is to be limited to only 1.5 C.

Ultra rapid charging

However, an extensive, reliable, and convenient fast-charging network is critical for large-scale EV adoption and as the global EV market continues to grow, the rollout of charging infrastructure can’t happen quickly enough. As of this month, EV drivers in Hong Kong will have access to the region's first ultra-rapid charging station compatible with different EV brands.

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The station, deployed by Shell Hong Kong Limited, Sino Group and Halo Energy Limited provides four rapid DC chargers, including one that operates at 300 kW, meaning that an EV can be fully charged within 15 minutes to provide 200 km of range. According to the project proponents, this makes it the fastest EV charger of its kind in Hong Kong. The three companies had previously worked to establish their first EV station in the town of Fanling.

Meanwhile, in Europe, Tesla has continued to expand its Non-Tesla Supercharger pilot. As announced this week, drivers of non-Tesla EVs may now use the company’s formerly proprietary fast-charging network in Austria, Spain, Belgium, Sweden, and the UK. The pilot was already live in France, Norway, and the Netherlands. Tesla has been gradually expanding the pilot to monitor the impact of onboarding non-Tesla EVs on its network, but its goal is to open the entire network in Europe and worldwide. Of course, pricing for non-Tesla drivers reflects additional costs incurred to support charging a broad range of vehicles and adjustments to its sites to accommodate these vehicles. Rates vary by site, and charging prices can be seen in the Tesla app. The per kWh price to charge can be lowered with a charging membership.

Green lithium

Against the backdrop of battery material supply chain crunches, automakers continue to search for ways to secure scalable and sustainable material supplies. BMW Group‘s venture capital unit for investing in fast-growing technology start-ups, BMW i Ventures has become the lead investor in Mangrove Lithium, a Canadian company that has developed a process to transform both new and recycled raw lithium into battery-grade material. Mangrove Lithium’s technology is said to eliminate the need for a carbonate plant, reducing the operating costs and time associated with the initial conversion of feedstock into lithium carbonate.

According to the company, the resulting material could be used in any type of lithium-ion battery. For BMW, the investment may prove critical for its further expansion. “There is a substantial need for technologies that enable more environmentally-friendly and cost-effective lithium production, as lithium is a key component in most battery chemistries relevant for EVs,” said Kasper Sage, Managing Partner at BMW i Ventures. The funds from the Series A-1 financing round will be used to accelerate the construction of Mangrove Lithium’s first commercial plant.

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