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Climate Change

Suzuki to offer hybrid-powered models for all 'kei' minicars

Japan automaker aims to adopt simple system in developing electrified vehicles in a few years

Suzuki has already adopted a simple hybrid system in some of its popular models, including the Hustler. (Photo by Kei Higuchi) 

TOKYO -- Suzuki Motor will aim to equip all of its minivehicles with simple hybrid systems in a few years, Nikkei has learned, as the automobile industry weathers a storm of change amid intensifying competition.

The Japanese automaker also plans to develop fuel-efficient high-performance hybrid vehicles and electric vehicles.

Japan's signature miniature vehicles, known as kei cars, are lower-priced and fuel-efficient, accounting for 40% of domestic new car sales. Suzuki ranks No. 2 in the country for kei car sales, after Daihatsu Motor.

Suzuki has already adopted a simple hybrid system called "mild hybrid" in some of its popular models, including the Hustler and Spacia. The automaker plans to feature the system in its other kei models in a bid to electrify its existing models without major design changes. The vehicles will cost about 100,000 yen ($954) more than a gasoline-powered car.

The move comes amid Japan's goal to make all new cars eco-friendly by the mid-2030s and accelerate the shift to hybrid cars and electric cars. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has also vowed to achieve net zero emissions by 2050, prompting makers of kei cars to begin transitioning development to focus more on electric vehicles.

One main challenge is that electrifying kei cars through batteries remain a high hurdle for the industry. In order to have a sufficient cruising range, an EV must have a sizable battery, but this makes it difficult to maintain the standards of a kei car, including vehicle size and engine capacity.

The high cost of the battery will also lessen the appeal of kei cars, which generally tend to be less expensive. In the past, Mitsubishi Motors sold an EV minicar called i-MiEV for about 3 million yen.

Suzuki plans to make its simple hybrid system fuel-efficient by having the electric motor support the engine's driving force at lower speeds. The vehicles will be less fuel-efficient compared to full-scale hybrid vehicles but will allow the carmaker to introduce the system to its models without major changes and keep costs down.

German automaker Volkswagen has also laid out plans to adopt simple hybrid systems in all of its gasoline vehicles.

Daihatsu and Honda Motor have yet to disclose any clear strategy about electrifying their cars. Nissan Motor and Mitsubishi, meanwhile, have a partnership that includes working on EVs.

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