Japanese firms to market electric vehicles Toyota, Honda are first to challenge GM offering


Toyota and Honda, Japan's No. 1 and No. 3 automakers, said yesterday they will begin marketing electric passenger vehicles in California next year, becoming the first importers to challenge General Motors Corp.'s EV1 coupe unveiled in January.

Both the Toyota and Honda vehicles will present stiff competition to the two-seat EV1 because they will be the first mass-produced vehicles to use advanced nickel-metal hydride batteries, which have twice the power of the traditional lead-acid batteries that will power GM's EV1.

"They can't let GM or anyone else get too far ahead of them," said Bill Van Amburg, spokesman for Calstart, a consortium of companies pushing for an advanced transportation industry in California.

Toyota Motor Sales USA, Toyota's U.S. unit based in Southern California, will market electric versions of its four-seat RAV4 sport utility vehicle to fleet users in California, starting in the fall of next year, a spokesman said.

Toyota will initially sell 320 of the Japanese-made front-wheel-drive RAV4 EVs. With its advanced battery, the RAV4 EV is expected to have a range of more than 120 miles, compared with the GM EV1's 90 miles.

American Honda Motor Co., meanwhile, said it will begin leasing a Japanese-made four-seat vehicle called the Honda EV starting in the spring of next year to fleet users and individuals in California. The Honda EV will have a range of about 125 miles.

Neither automaker would say how much the vehicles will cost until they are unveiled tomorrow at the California Alternative Fuel Vehicle Partnership Conference in Los Angeles.

GM's two-seat EV1, to be assembled in Michigan, is to be priced in the mid-$30,000 range when it goes on sale later this year.

The programs are in keeping with agreements made by the seven major automakers with the California Air Resources Board, which relaxed requirements for zero-emission electric vehicles at its meeting last month.

In a ruling assailed by environmentalists, the air board lifted a mandate requiring automakers to sell a certain percentage of electric vehicles by 1998. Instead, it entered into agreements with each of the automaker setting voluntary goals for the introduction of such vehicles by the turn of the century.

Pub Date: 4/09/96

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