The Age of the Electric Car Has Arrived
Automotive journalists from around the world give recognition to the very best new cars at the World Car Awards. In 2011, the Nissan LEAF, made by Nissan Motor Co., Ltd., was the first electric vehicle to be honored as the World Car of the Year. It was chosen by the jurors because "it feels just like a normal car" (powered by gasoline), and it is "the world's first purpose-built, mass-produced electric car." The LEAF is already being sold on five continents, and sales reached about 20,000 units in the first year since its release at the end of 2010.
Nissan LEAF, 2011 World Car of the Year. ©Nissan Motor Co., Ltd.
The LEAF was not the first electric vehicle made in Japan. Rather, Mitsubishi Motors Corporation released a compact electric car called the i-MiEV in 2009, and since then, around 20,000 units have been shipped both in and outside the country. Sales launches of more electric vehicles are also scheduled for 2012, with Mazda Motor Corporation releasing its Demio in the spring, Honda Motor Co., Ltd. unveiling its Fit in the summer, and Toyota Motor Corporation planning a release of its FT-EV III. It seems fair to say that Japan is leading the way in the field of electric cars.
Mitsubishi Motors’ i-MiEV, the first electric vehicle marketed in Japan. ©Mitsubishi Motors Corporation
In general, the electric car projects a strong image as a vehicle for the new generation, but surprisingly, its history stretches as far back as the gasoline-powered automobile. While gasoline cars were put to practical use in 1886, electric cars had been put to use in 1873. Even Thomas Edison, known as the "king of invention" in the United States, worked hard to improve electric vehicles so that their popularity would spread. The early electric car models disappeared, however, as gasoline cars became highly efficient around the beginning of the twentieth century. The major drawbacks of the electric vehicles were the short distance that could be traveled on one charge and their lack of horsepower.
Late in the twentieth century, however, electric vehicles caught the public eye once again. One of the reasons for this revived interest was the growing concern over environmental problems. Having become critical of air pollution caused by automobile exhaust fumes, people also recognized that gasoline vehicles were emitting large volumes of carbon dioxide, regarded as a major cause of global warming. In response, low-polluting vehicles were developed one by one, including methanol and natural gas models, as well as hybrid versions. But since electric vehicles are the only ones that do not emit any carbon dioxide while running, they are truly environment-friendly automobiles.