Association, Inc.

Issue No. 3, 2008

Japan's latest eco-vehicles

by Peter Nunn

There’s no question that 2008 is turning out to be a hugely significant year for new environmentally-friendly Japanese cars.

Across the green car spectrum, from hybrids to electric cars, 'clean' diesels, fuel cells and more, Japan's carmakers are, as the saying goes, fully plugged in, and fresh product is now arriving on the scene thick and fast.

Toyota and Honda already lead the world in hybrids, for instance, but next-generation versions of the Prius and Insight models are just around the corner.  At the Paris Salon this month, Honda 'sneak-previewed' a concept of its new, global compact hybrid model with dedicated hatchback body that will revive the Insight name, while Toyota's new Prius is to be exhibited in January 2009 at the next North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

Toyota, for its part, is still enjoying considerable success with the Prius, perhaps the world's best-known eco car.  Meanwhile, the company continues development work on new plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHVs) that allow battery recharging from a household electrical outlet or a public charging station, adding convenience of use to the benefits  of increased fuel efficiency and lower emissions that PHV technology is expected to bring.

Turning to fuel-cell cars, a small piece of history was made with this greenest of green technologies on June 16, when the first Honda FCX Clarity rolled off the line in Japan.  This hydrogen-powered car is available for lease in the US (initially) and Japan (as of next month), and is a true breakthrough.  Honda plans to lease a combined annual total of several dozen of these cars in the US and Japan, aiming for a combined annual total of two hundred in three years' time.
2008 also marks the coming of age of electric cars and Nissan is one company that’s investing heavily in this zero-emissions technology.  Nissan has announced it will launch a brand new EV with unique body design in 2010 and this will be a major model, indeed.

Mitsubishi too is looking at EVs and has begun road trials of its small, cutting-edge
iMiEV electric mini which will launch in Japan in 2009.

A host of new Japanese eco cars, including the iMiEV, were on display and available for test drives at this summer's G8 Summit in Hokkaido.  There, Japan's auto manufacturers laid on a special environmental showcase so that G8 delegates, officials and media could see for themselves the progress being made in the industry.

'Clean' diesels are also in the news.  Nissan became the first domestic maker to release a thoroughly modern, European-style diesel in Japan when the 2.0-litre X-Trail 20GT bowed this September.  It already meets Japan's ultra-stringent, so-called post new long-term regulations for emissions, the first vehicle in the world to do so.  

As buyers and manufacturers also look to downsize as a way of going green, so Toyota has created a wave of interest with the iQ, its radical new city car less than 3 metres long with revolutionary packaging and exemplary emissions and economy. 

Mazda, in turn, has committed to a full-scale engineering programme to cut vehicle weight and improve fuel economy by 30 per cent by 2015.  Fuji Heavy Industries, Subaru's parent company, is getting a lot of traction with the company's innovative, clean and efficient new Boxer Diesel that's made a big impact in Europe.

Clearly, Japan's green car revolution is gathering pace—fast—and there may yet be further developments on the environmental front before this product-intensive year is out.