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Climate Change

Minicars to play big role in Japan's 'all electric' goal

Popular vehicles included in halt of new gasoline-only auto sales by mid-2030s

A kei minicar dealership in Japan's Kanagawa Prefecture. The small vehicles are especially popular in rural regions where public transport options are scarce.   © Reuters

TOKYO -- Japan will include so-called kei minicars in its goal to make all new auto sales consist of electric vehicles, a major pillar in Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga's goal of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.

The government aims to halt all sales of new gasoline-only cars by the mid-2030s, switching entirely to electrics, fuel-cell vehicles, hybrids and plug-in hybrids. But there had been some debate on whether this goal also applied to kei cars, which account for just under 40% of all new vehicles sold in Japan.

Kei cars cannot be longer than 3.4 meters or have an engine larger than 660cc, are generally priced lower than regular passenger cars. They are a popular mode of transportation nationwide, especially in rural areas where public alternatives may not exist.

Electric and fuel-cell vehicles tend to be priced about $10,000 or more above their gasoline-fueled counterparts. There is concern that electrifying kei cars would lead to higher prices in a blow to populations that rely on these mini-sized cars. Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry will help lower the price of electric kei models by supporting research into smaller EV batteries and domestic production.

The government also aims to make a decision by the summer on whether to include commercial vehicles, such as buses and large trucks, in its electrification goal. These vehicles will require larger batteries to run, which could potentially make them very expensive.

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