April 12, 2014 2:00 am JST

Top Japanese automakers to back charging stations

No need to remember which side the tank is on.

TOKYO -- Toyota, Nissan, Mitsubishi Motors and Honda will join forces to provide funding and payment processing for electric-vehicle charging stations in Japan.

      The quartet will form a joint venture as early as next month -- a rare alliance in a highly competitive industry. They are expected to take equal stakes in the new company and may eventually expand their partnership to infrastructure for fuel cell vehicles.

     Last July, the four automakers set a goal of installing 4,000 new quick-charge stations and 8,000 standard ones. Their new company will seek to do that this year. Japan had about 2,000 and 4,000 of each kind of charging station at the end of March.

     Quick-charge stations can cost more than 5 million yen ($48,000) apiece. The government already subsidizes up to two-thirds of installation costs. With the support that the automakers' new venture will provide, out-of-pocket expenses could drop to zero, encouraging gas stations, convenience stores and other businesses to set up chargers.

     The new company will also provide a payment-processing system that charging stations can link to. The goal is to let drivers of electric vehicles charge up anywhere in Japan with a single card.

     Charging-station owners now set their own prices, typically 500 yen to 1,000 yen per charge, and take payment in various ways. While the carmakers' approach will still leave pricing up to owners, it would let even sole proprietors start up charging services with little fuss.

     Japanese automakers have taken an early lead in electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids. But even the most popular electric car in Japan, Nissan's Leaf, has fallen short of expected sales, with only 37,000 sold as of February. Having more quick-charge stations on the road could help drivers of the vehicles take longer trips and convince people on the fence to go electric.

(Nikkei)

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