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Electric cars racing for success

Published: Friday, June 22, 2012

Updated: Friday, June 22, 2012 11:06


TOKYO - Japanese automakers are entering electric race cars in global events, hoping that victories will boost sales of the passenger vehicles the race cars are based on.

Car races provide world-class venues to showcase the performance of Japan-made electric vehicles, and automakers are scrambling to develop high-performance electric cars that can compete.

Earlier this month, the i-MiEV Evolution was seen cornering smoothly at a Mitsubishi Motors Corp. test course in Okazaki, Japan. The race car, based on Mitsubishi's i-MiEV electric hatchback, went from zero to 60 mph in less than four seconds.

The Evolution is scheduled to contest the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb in July, an annual race to the Colorado summit. Former rally driver Hiroshi Masuoka, who will pilot the car in the competition, said his plan is to take advantage of the Evolution's transmission-free engine, which allows it to quickly reach top speed.

A previously unmatched seven electric vehicles are slated to join the race. Five of the seven are Japanese teams.

The Toyota Group is employing technology it has nurtured in car development for Formula One races, the pinnacle of the racing world. Actor Sho Aikawa, who will lead the Toyota team in the July race, said electric cars have become indispensable in motor sports.

Automakers hope to show in the Pikes Peak race that the biggest weakness of electric vehicles _ shorter cruising distances than gas-driven cars _ has been overcome. Through this they aim to boost sales of electric vehicles in general, as well as improve business opportunities for auto parts makers.

The biggest challenge in making electric cars for racing has been trimming the weight of the battery, said to be the heaviest part in an electric vehicle, while at the same time increasing power-storage capacity.

Team APEV, established by startup company Tajima Motor Corp. and others, said they seek nothing less than the championship in the July race.

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd., whose battery runs the APEV car, said they hope a win will be a stepping stone into the battery business for passenger cars.

Meidensha Corp., producer of the motor that powers the i-MiEV Evolution, said they want the July race to aid their development of lighter, higher-powered motors.

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