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Electric car that can be charged as easily as cell phone makes debut

12, 04. 2007

   Electric cars that can run from the Tokyo Station to the Atami spa after five to six hours of charging from the wall socket are now available for sale at the shops of the venture firm Auto EV Japan Co. in Tokyo. The car is called Girasole, the Italian word meaning the sunflower. Selling such cars in Japan is a big challenge for the small company.

It costs only about 1 yen to run 1km, or less than one tenth of gasoline car

Cute two-seater, but its trunk is as roomy as 350 liters. (Picture show an optional hatch back.)
Cute two-seater, but its trunk is as roomy as 350 liters. (Picture show an optional hatch back.)

   It is 2,345mm long and 11,260mm, or only about one half of the Toyota Corolla in size. The cute two-seat car looks like a golf cart. It is classified as a mini vehicle by law and is permitted to run on the public road.

   Its maximum speed goes up to 65km/h. It is not fast enough to be permitted to run on speed ways but is good enough for running around on regular roads. Its acceleration is 3.1 seconds to reach the speed of 40km/h, or as swift as a gasoline car with a 2-liter engine capacity. It is equipped with a boost switch to give accelerating power on an uphill road. It runs on electricity 100%, so that it is completely free from air pollution.

   The main feature of the Girasole is that it can be charged from a wall socket at home. It can be fully charged in five to six hours. If it is plugged in at night for recharging after full use during the day, it will be ready for another round of use by the morning. Charging the battery of the car is as easy as charging a cell phone.

   It costs about 100 yen to fully charge the battery during the night if a contract is concluded for night-time consumption of electricity. The cost would be about 130 yen if charged at the ordinary rate for the day time. As the car can run about 120km at a full charging, its running cost comes out to be about 1 yen per 1km.

   Supposing a gasoline car runs 10km per liter of gasoline (priced at 150 yen), the cost of driving a gasoline car is 15 yen per 1km. The Girasole is a two-seat car, but it is still a lot cheaper to drive a Girasole. Taking into consideration the sharp rises of crude oil prices, the Girasole is by far a low cost car.

"Wanted to make up for spewing black fume at rallies in the world."

Can be charged from a wall socket at home
Can be charged from a wall socket at home

   Yoshiro Takaoka, president of Auto EV Japan Co., was formerly a rally driver who was well known in the motor sports world. He founded a company when he reached 60 years of age in 2002. "I have spewed black fumes all over the world when I was active as a rally driver. I have also unknowingly run over many wild animals. I wanted to repay something to the earth to make up to these wrong doings I committed. I found the development and selling of electric cars were what I wanted to do," he said.

   Many voiced opinions that that it is absolutely impossible to sell costly electric cars, but Takaoka started doing what he wanted to do. By joining hands with the Italian company that is producing the car bodies that would be used as the base for the Girasole, joint development began to produce cars for sale on the Japanese market.

   While the electric motor of the car was newly developed to meet the road conditions in Japan, improvements were made also in the scores of other aspects, including the development of the charger to suit the 100 volt electricity current in Japan and the use of the up-to-the-minute lithium ion battery. The car that could be put on the market was first produced in 2005.

   There were still other problems, however. The hardest of them was that unexpectedly large amount of fund was needed to take steps to clear the safety standard required by the Land, Infrastructure and Transport Ministry. "We destroyed more than 30 cars in tests involving the ramming of cars against wall at the speed of 50km/h. It was a severe blow to us. Sometimes we were faced by financial difficulty and we had to decide whether to continue or stop the project," Takaoka said. It might be such a small amount of money a big automaker would not hesitate a moment to spend. But it was a life-or-death gamble for a venture firm without much fund. But Takaoka's company found ways somehow to continue the project.

   About the same amount of work and money as that for starting everything from scratch had to be spent. It was in January 2007 that the selling of the cars could be started.

Purchaser of the car would be given subsidy of up to 770,000 yen

Original of Girasole is used as police car in Italy
Original of Girasole is used as police car in Italy

   Girasole was revealed to the press and a limited number of the cars were sold from January 2007. Receiving of orders for the cars on a full-scale basis began in November after dealers became ready to do so and preparations were made for mass production. The car was priced at 2,604,000 yen. It might be expensive for a two-seat car. The car was subjected, however, to "subsidies for the introduction of clean energy cars", and a subsidy of up to 770,000 yen was offered to a purchaser.

   Even a Girasole car was sold at the price of 260,000 yen, there would be a little profit as only the battery would cost about 1,800,000 yen at the market price, while the car is almost handmade at a factory in Italy, requiring shipping cost, according to an official at Auto EV Japan. The company is aiming at selling 1,000 units of the cars in 2008.

   "We are a small company now. But with the Giosole as our turning point, we would like to become a company in the future that will change the infrastructures, parking problems and other conditions related to Japan's electric car conditions. For the near future, we are also wanting to produce electric cars that will have self-supply capacity for energy by using solar panels. Our heads are always filled with ideas," Takaoka said. Thus, the man who knows inside out of the motor sports industry, has now started moving toward the popularization of electric cars.

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