Mazda to lease electric vehicles in Japan in 2012

TOKYO (AP) — Mazda is developing its own electric car for leasing in Japan starting in spring 2012, joining the rush to develop green vehicles, an area in which it’s lagging General Motors, Nissan and other rivals.

The electric vehicle will be based on the car maker’s Demio subcompact, called the Mazda2 overseas, and will have a driving range of 120 miles (200 kilometers) on a single charge, Mazda said Monday.

“We think time will be needed for electric vehicles to become widespread, but there is a definite need for short-range commuters,” said Mazda Motor Corp. President and Chief Executive Takashi Yamanouchi in announcing the plan at an evening news conference at a Tokyo hotel.

The Japanese automaker, based in Hiroshima, declined to give details on what battery it was going to use — the key component in an electric vehicle — apart from saying it would be lithium-ion. Nor would it give details of price, overseas sales plans or target numbers.

It is common for companies in the intensely competitive auto industry to be reticent about revealing business plans, especially on a product that’s a year away in coming.

Speculation has been rife that Mazda — a relatively small player, producing 1.2 million vehicles a year — would fall behind in expensive-to-develop ecological technology after its U.S. partner Ford Motor Co. gradually reduced its stake over the years in Mazda to its current level of about 3.5 percent.

Mazda officials said they expect electric vehicles to make up about 5 percent of the world’s auto market by 2020.

It has other green technologies for gas engines, such as more efficient transmissions and weight reduction, which will make up the majority of sales for some time, they said.

Leasing of its electric vehicle will be mainly to government organizations and company “fleet” customers, not individuals, according to Mazda.

“We have always had the building blocks for our own electric vehicle,” Yamanouchi said. On price, he said it will be competitive with other electric vehicles on the market.

But Mazda will be more than a year behind Japanese rival Nissan Motor Co., which has recently begun delivering its Leaf electric vehicle in Japan and the U.S. General Motors has also begun delivering the Chevrolet Volt electric car. Other automakers, including Toyota Motor Corp., are also planning electric vehicles.

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