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Yamato Takyubin Delivery Co. Orders 100 Minicab i-MiEV Vans

Posted by Stephen On Thursday, May 26th, 2011

The Yamato delivery company (colloquially referred to as kuro neko – black cat) is the most prominent of Japan’s home delivery companies that provide convenient and cheap to-door parcel services throughout Japan. They even have a ku-ru bin (refrigerated delivery service), by which grandparents living back in the countryside can send care packages of home-grown fruit and veg to their city-dwelling offspring.

Yamato run literally thousands of vehicles, many of which are the small trucks that spend the day puttering around narrow neighborhood streets to stop and drop off parcels at every other house. With most of these minitrucks doing mileage in the 30 kilometer range every day, they are the perfect candidates for electrification.

Since the MINICAB-MiEV can get 100 kilometers of range out of a single charge, Yamato employees will only need to charge their vehicles every other day, and they will also be able to use cheaper of-peak electricity by charging at night, which will also help reduce the strain on the local power companies. Presumably, it would not be too much of a stretch for the local parcel depots to be fitted with solar panels to make these deliver trucks even more green.

Yamato (Kuro Neko) Minicab i-MiEV electric EV delivery truck

And this is exactly what Yamato is doing with its order for 100 MINICAB‐MiEV electric vehicles from Mitsubishi. This electric model has been on the market since April 1st this year, and deliveries are going to start at the end of the year with 30 coming into use in 2011, and the remainder in 2012. They will mainly be used in the Tokyo, Haneda and Kyoto areas – urban environments ideally suited to this kind of vehicle. The decision to move ahead with this order was as a result of a joint trial with Mitsubishi that started last year.

When a big player like Yamato makes a move like this, you can be sure that other companies with similar needs will be watching closely and getting ready to make their moves also.

Perhaps in the future it won’t be “kuro neko” anymore, but “midori neko” – green cat?

Yamato Takyubin kuro neko (black cat) becomes midori neko (green cat)

Sources: Zaikei, Otanew (Japanese-language)

i-MiEV Batteries Get Second Life Powering Mitsubishi Plant from 2012

Posted by Stephen On Tuesday, September 20th, 2011

Having launched their bubble-on-wheels i-MiEV electric car back in July 2009 in Japan, Mitsubishi are now starting to think about what to do with the batteries when these vehicles reach the end of their life cycle.

After all, cars in Japan tend to get replaced earlier and at lower mileages than those overseas. So, despite Mitsubishi’s claims that the i-MiEV battery pack will still have 80% of its capacity when new when it reaches 5 years of age, and 70% at 10 years (which seems eminently reasonable in light of how battery packs from the original Prius are holding up better than was originally forecast) it is inevitable that accidents and consumer demand for newer vehicles will see more and more i-MiEVs being taken off the road in the years to come.

Now, the i-MiEV’s battery stores a significant amount of power: The more powerful 16 KW/H pack can keep a typical 4-person Japanese home supplied with 1.5 day’s worth of electricity. So, old battery packs could be used to store power for homes. That is certainly one avenue that manufacturers like Nissan are pursuing.

But Mitsubishi is thinking bigger: What about getting a whole stack of these and wiring them into the power supply for a factory. And then, what about throwing solar panels into the mix, as well as those batteries that are still mounted in cars – the vehicles that some employees are using for commuting?

This is the Mitsubishi vision for its Nagoya plant in Okazaki (which also happens to be a city I lived in for 2 years):

Mitsubishi Motor Corporation (MMC) Nagoya (Okazaki) "hybrid" factory experiment using solar power and old i-MiEV batteries

The premise is simple: Use old battery packs from i-MiEVs (and, I would suppose Minicab-MiEVs as well, in time) to store electricity at “off-peak” times, such as during the night when power demands are lower, and then use that power during the day in conjunction with power stored in i-MiEV commuter cars as well as power produced by solar panels to balance demand during the day.

Of course, the irony of this “hybrid” factory arrangement currently is that there is little price incentive to do this. While MMC can be seen as doing its part for the country in the wake of the power shortages that followed March’s nuclear accident, as well as protecting itself from future short-term power outages, the fact that off-peak electricity is rarely priced lower than during peak daytime hours means there is little economic incentive for doing so.

Perhaps Mitsubishi is sensing a change in the air? In any case, this kind of experiment that it will start in 2012 will mean it will be ahead of the game if Japan’s electricity-generating dinosaurs ever do get pushed into making that change in their pricing structures.

Source: Chunichi Shinbun (Japanese)

Suzuki Every Van EV Trials Start

Posted by Stephen On Thursday, July 14th, 2011

It is easy sometimes to forget about manufacturers like Suzuki. They don’t seem to be in the big league (like Toyota), nor do they have a charismatic CEO (like Mr. Ghosn of Nissan). Having said that, these “minnows” can sometimes surprise. After all, Mitsubishi came out of nowhere with their i-MiEV, and here comes Suzuki with an electric version of their kei (mini) van, the Every. Suzuki may not be a big player outside of Japan. but in its home market, it is frequently numero uno due to sales of minicars called kei cars.

While vans like the Every may seem rather quaint to western, and especially North American, eyes, these smaller vans are actually a stalwart of Japanese business and agricultural users. In ICE form, their small engines make them very fuel efficient, and their size means they can navigate country roads and tight city streets with equal ease.

Since Mitsubishi launched their Minicab-MiEV earlier this year, it did not take too much imagination from Suzuki to realize that they needed to make sure they were in the electric vehicle game also. Suzuki has created 13 of these EV Every vans which will be leant out to Suzuki dealerships around Japan, starting with those closest to Suzuki’s home in Hamamatsu, central Japan. This will allow Suzuki to gather real-world driving data for their next-generation vehicles.

Suzuki EV Every electric kei van next to Suzuki Swift Range Extender

EV Every recharging (right)  with Swift Range Extender (left)

The EV Every test vehicles are fitted with high-capacity compact Lithium Ion batteries which can be fully charged in 5 hours using a 200V outlet, giving the EV Every a maximum range of 100 kilometers. Although this may not sound like a lot, as I mentioned in an earlier post about the Minicab-iMiEV, this is more than enough for the typical delivery vehicle in Japan as it jets from street to street. The weight has increased 200KG over the base ICE model, but the cargo capacity remains the same at 250KG. There is no indication as to how the range might be affected if run with a full cargo. Presumably, this would be one thing they will want to investigate with this real world drive testing.

Although the EV Every is not slated for production, the data gleaned from these vehicles is likely to prove useful when Suzuki opens their Next Generation Environmental Vehicle technology development center in August 2016. To be honest, I hope they plan on moving forward before then, otherwise early starters like Mitsubishi and Nissan are likely to be too far ahead to catch by then.

Source: Chunichi Shinbun (Japanese-language)

Mitsubishi Chooses Super-Efficient Toshiba SCiB Battery For EVs

Posted by Stephen On Saturday, June 18th, 2011

Mitsubishi Motor Corporation (MMC) have selected Toshiba’s SCiB battery for its i-MiEV and Minicab-MiEV models. The battery uses Toshiba’s proprietary lithium titanate oxide to make a long-life cell that can go through 6000 charging cycles – about 2.5 times more than regular lithium ion batteries. The battery pack can do a rapid 80% recharge in just 15 minutes, and is capable of operating in temperatures as low as minus 30 degrees Celcius.

The SCiB battery pack is also being used by Honda in its EV-neo scooter that it is positioning for corporate use in Japan, as well as an electric bus project by Keio University, an electrical grid power storage system in the southern islands of Okinawa as well as  a number of other projects. The main advantage of the SCiB battery for EVs is that it gets about 1.7 times more range than the equivalent lithium ion battery, which therefore means that car makers can either reduce the size and weight of the battery pack (thus also reducing cost and improving efficiency) or, presumably, keep the dimensions the same and offer and extended range.

Toshiba SCiB lithium titanate oxide rechargeable EV battery

The ability to recharge quickly is also an important selling point for potential EV customers. A quick charge with a dedicated recharging unit will restore a quarter of the battery capacity in 5 minutes. 10 minutes brings it up to 50% charge, and 80% is reached in just 15 minutes. Not quite as quick as refilling your tank, but then again with the abundance of electrical outlets and the future provision of charging points in parking lots, the idea of actually having to go to a particular place simply to get more energy for your car will seem rather quaint 10 years from now. The battery also emits much lower levels of heat when recharging and also requires less energy for cooling when in use.

The SCiB battery is being manufactured in Toshiba’s Kashiwazaki facilities in Niigata Prefecture on the Japan Sea coast of north east Japan. A new factory dedicated to SCiB production has been built there and started operations in February this year.

Just as in the cell phone market, consumer demand for EVs and hybrids is driving innovation particularly aimed at improving energy density, recharge time and safety. The SCiB battery is a clear example of this and provides a good indication that the EVs of tomorrow are going to be significantly more competitive with regular ICE cars than they are today.

Sources: Kankyo Business (Japanese-language), Automotive Business Review