370kph electric car is left standing

November 19, 2004

More than six months after a Japanese university professor unveiled the fastest car in the world - running on lithium ion batteries - only the troubled Mitsubishi Motors has expressed interest in the technology.

The quickest way to develop a product is to go into a partnership with a manufacturer. But Hiroshi Shimizu of Keio University's environmental information department is aware of the car industry's aversion to technology that takes away its competitive advantage.

"Car makers are essentially engine makers. They are probably terrified that engines would one day become obsolete," Professor Shimizu explained.

This is why Toyota, Honda and Ford are promoting the hybrid technology of an electric motor-assisted gasoline-engine car.

Heavy investment is going into a hydrogen battery-assisted electric car, but experts say it will be at least 20 years before it sees the light of day. But this complexity is also its attraction, as proprietary rights would be guaranteed.

In contrast, the simple - and inexpensive - electric car mechanism developed by Professor Shimizu would make it "technically possible for anyone to build a car", he said.

Oil firms have a vested interest in keeping conventional cars on the road.

"(Changing to electric engines) would call for a fundamental restructuring of manufacturing worldwide. Many people fear such a change," said Hiroichi Yoshida, also at Keio.

The 800-horsepower Eliica - short for Electric Lithium-Ion Battery Car - has a top speed of 370km per hour.

Jet-like acceleration, stability and quietness makes driving a surreal experience. "It's like Back to the Future," commented Ukyo Katayama, the car's test-driver.

Professor Shimizu said the only way to reduce global warming, thought to be responsible for a record number of typhoons in Japan this year, was to "go electric".

The Eliica cost 500 million yen (£2.5 million) and took 12 months to develop.

"It would be easier to raise funds or find a business partner overseas, but we would like to keep it in Japan for the sake of the students and the university," Professor Yoshida said.

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