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Rush Limbaugh and other members of the conservative intelligentsia used the occasion of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan to mock the country for producing fuel efficient vehicles. As usual, they were tasteless and wrong.

A story in the New York Times ("After disaster hit Japan, electric cars stepped up") highlights the utility of the electric vehicles (EVs) in the devastated areas of Japan. The keys to their utility have been their ability to go without gasoline and durability. The earthquake and tsunami destroyed refineries and fuel delivery infrastructure in the region, making it impractical to rely on gas-guzzlers to move people and supplies around the area.

“There was almost no gas at the time, so I was extremely thankful when I heard about the offer,” said Tetsuo Ishii, a division chief in the environmental department in Sendai, which also got four Nissan Leaf electric cars. “If we hadn’t received the cars, it would have been very difficult to do what we needed to.”

One of the electric workhorses of the disaster recovery efforts is Mitsubishi's new i-MiEV, an egg-shaped vehicle shown here.

The performance of the EVs in the disaster zone has earned praise and will likely greatly expand purchases by municipalities. Mitsubishi president Osamu Masuko sees this as one of the silver linings in the many clouds from the twin disasters in Japan.

The cars’ unexpected sturdiness and utility has pleased Mr. Masuko, who, like other automobile executives, has been battling skeptics who see electric vehicles as expensive and impractical.

“I am most impressed when I hear the words, ‘I felt electric vehicles were unreliable at first, but now, the vehicles are being integrated into daily life,’ ” he wrote in an e-mail. “I am so glad I heard that our electric vehicles are contributing to the recovery of the affected areas.”

New York Times, May 6, article by Ken Belson

Mitsubishi will introduce the i-MiEV to US markets during the 2012 model year. It has already earned favorable reviews for its performance from USA Today and Popular Mechanics. Here is Popular Mechanics' assessment.

The i-Miev is a creature built for urban mobility. At only 133.7-inches long overall, it’s almost a full foot shorter than a Mini Cooper and it rides on super-narrow 145/65R15 front and 175/55R15 rear tires. But with its 47-kilowatt engine driving the rear wheels and 330-volt li-ion battery pack mounted low in the chassis, it’s stable and nimble. The motor’s instantaneous torque means there’s seemingly always thrust available, and the 63.4-inch tall i-Miev can squirt through traffic holes that behemoths like the Honda Civic or Mazda3 wouldn’t even dare. Forget issues of range and charging time for a moment—it’s hard to think of any vehicle better suited for pounding across the cityscape than the i-Miev, no matter what the drivetrain.

Two issues for the American market are the small seats and range restrictions. As Popular Mechanic so quaintly put it:

At just 58.1-inches wide, however, the i-Miev is too narrow for full-size American hips.

Mitsubishi will be marketing a wider version for the American market. Japan has a growing number of fast charging stations that allow a full charge in the time it takes to snarf down an artery-clogging, butt-enlarging meal sold by a clown, king, or colonel. There are currently few such fast-charging stations in America, but that will change rapidly with greater market share of EVs.

The arrival of the Mitsubishi i-MiEV in the American market is a welcome addition to growing market. Even Ford is dipping its toe in the electric vehicle market this year. Instead of being ahead of the technological curve, we are reluctantly embracing the technology after it has become established in Japan and Europe. No wonder we are not creating jobs. You have to question the collective intelligence of a nation that deliberately ignores the realities of climate change, peak oil, and global competition for commodities while stubbornly clinging, misty-eyed, to a distant past when oil was cheap and America had a growing middle class. That is especially true for a nation that has only 2% of world's oil reserves.

The i-MiEV, Nissan Leaf, and other EVs have been able to function despite power outages and rolling blackouts in Japan.

Complicating matters, much of the Tokyo region is bracing for rolling blackouts this summer to compensate for the loss of electricity from the downed nuclear reactors in Fukushima.

Still, the profile of electric vehicles in the aftermath of the twin disasters may persuade city governments — among the largest buyers of the cars — to add more of them to their fleets. After all, the cars are typically driven during the day, when most of the blackouts are scheduled, and charged at night, when demand is lower.

New York Times, May 6, article by Ken Belson

Critics love to harp on the carbon footprint of EVs. These arguments are valid in areas that are largely dependent on coal. There are two solutions to this problem. One is to kick fossil fuels to the curb in generating electricity, which will be difficult to do without effective carbon pricing. The second is to get EVs off the grid as much as possible. Solar charging systems for home use and stations for public use have been developed and the future looks even more promising as the cost of solar systems comes down.

Ford has evaluated U.S. cities for their readiness to support EV adoption based on assessments of infrastructure, permitting, cost, and other factors. Here is their list of 25 most EV-ready cities.

Austin (TX)
Charlotte (NC)
Hartford (CT)
Los Angeles
New York
Raleigh (NC)
Richmond (VA)
San Diego
San Francisco Bay Area
Washington, D.C.

A brief discussion of Ford's rationale for selecting these 25 cities can be found in this video.

Originally posted to DWG on Sun May 08, 2011 at 11:36 AM PDT.

Also republished by oo, J Town, 2011 Japan Earthquake and Tsunami Information and Assistance, and Community Spotlight.

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