OSAKA -- Japan's GS Yuasa will begin mass producing as early as 2020 lithium-ion batteries that double the driving range of small electric vehicles.
Lithium Energy Japan, a joint venture with trading house Mitsubishi Corp. and carmaker Mitsubishi Motors, will develop the cells, which will be produced at its plant in Shiga Prefecture and supplied to automakers in Japan and Europe.
Mitsubishi Motors' i-MiEV compact, for instance, has a scope of around 170km per charge. The new battery would extend the range to some 340km, comparable to that of a large electric vehicle which can hold a bigger battery, and close to the limit of a gasoline-fueled car with a full tank.
The scarcity of charging facilities has been an obstacle to the popularization of electric cars, but longer-range batteries can help mitigate that concern. The plan is to hold down the price of the batteries to about the same level as existing products.
Lithium-ion batteries charge and release electricity as lithium ions travel between the electrodes. A novel composition of materials for electrodes will enable the new products to retain more of those ions.
GS Yuasa is the world's fourth largest supplier of automotive lithium-ion batteries. Japanese players including global leader Panasonic have had an edge in quality and performance. But with Chinese and South Korean contenders working to catch up, Japanese manufacturers need to keep honing their products if they are to avoid a price war.
The global demand for electric vehicles is seen climbing, with the U.K. and France, for example, announcing that they will ban the sale of new gasoline and diesel vehicles by 2040. With its newest electric-car batteries, GS Yuasa seeks to keep up with that demand and broaden its customer base.