Mitsubishi develops electric cars locally

Building better battery is key factor for success

AYUTTHAYA : Electric vehicles (EVs) are on the fast track to competing with fossil-fuel vehicles, driven by ever-increasing oil prices.

Nobuyuki Murahashi, the president of Mitsubishi Motors (Thailand) Co, said rising oil prices and concerns about carbon dioxide emissions are speeding up EV development.

This means the manufacturing costs of the cars and their weight as well as battery prices will decline in the future once economies of scale are reached, he said.

Mitsubishi's battery supply partners are making fast progress in developing batteries with longer life and higher efficiency.

The Japanese carmaker now plays a vital role in EV development in Thailand.

It signed an agreement with the Metropolitan Electricity Authority of Thailand last September to start joint field testing of the Mitsubishi innovative electric vehicle (MiEV) here.

The Japanese automaker launched the MiEV in Japan in March 2009 after two decades of research and development.

About 5,000 prototype units are running in Japan, while 10,000 have been shipped to the US and Europe.

The company's i-MiEV, a model based on its petrol-driven 660cc i minicar, could run 100-120 kilometres per charge. The mileage could reach 200-300 km in the future.

Khanchit Chaisupho, director of Southeast Asian public policy at General Motors (GM) Thailand Co, said it will be common to see vehicles powered by biofuel, hybrid technology or other fuels coupled with electric in the future due to retail oil prices exceeding 50 baht a litre in a few years.

Mitsubishi and GM earlier this month launched a joint project on EV testing and evaluation as well as future development plans with PTT Plc.

The Thai oil conglomerate has been testing Mitsubishi's i-MiEV since last year and will do the same with GM's Chevrolet Volt over the next 12 months.

PTT opened Thailand's second EV charging station this month, at its research facility in Ayutthaya.

Two more will open in Bangkok this year, while another six will be installed at its petrol stations next year.

Ratanavalee Inochanon, the executive vice-president overseeing the PTT Research and Technology Institute, said the battery will be the key factor determining the success of the vehicles, and a breakthrough is possible in the near future that could allow EVs to better compete by 2020.

She expects vehicles in Thailand in the future will be a mix of hybrid, flex-fuel and electric models.

The i-MiEV test a year ago shows one charge will require 16 kilowatt-hours, while battery life is eight years on average.

An imported completely built i-MiEV costs 2.3 million baht, while Chevrolet's Volt costs 2.5 million.

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Writer: Yuthana Praiwan
Position: Business Reporter