Japanese Toymaker To Offer 2-Seat Electric Cars

Two-seater has range of 50 miles between charges and will be prices around 1 million yen ($7,500US).

Published: 22-Jan-2002

TOKYO, Jan 22 (Reuters) - It's not every day a new company makes a foray into the cut-throat automotive industry -- let alone a toymaker, and let alone in electric cars.

But Japan's third-largest toymaker Takara Co Ltd (7969.T) aims to drive into a new niche, unveiling on Tuesday two single-seat electric cars due to hit the market around September this year.

While somewhat toy-like in design, the battery-powered vehicles -- a "2010" sportscar and a vintage-style model oddly named "Modern Times" -- can be driven on the road, with an eight-hour battery charge giving them an 80-kilometre (50-mile) range.

The battery can be charged from an ordinary electric socket. The car can run at speeds of up to 60 km per hour and requires a licence.

But Takara's president, Keita Sato, said his company will not be taking on the likes of auto giant Toyota Motor Co (7203.T) anytime soon.

"We're not out to replace ordinary cars, but rather play a supplementary role," he told a news conference.

"I can see them being used at tourist attractions or perhaps at shopping malls with large parking lots," he said.

The cars are part of the company's so-far successful strategy to develop toys for adults -- with other products including karaoke systems for the home, robots that can open beer cans and remote-controlled cars targeted at young men.

With the "2010" model likely to be priced under one million yen ($7,534) and the vintage-style version just over that, Takara says it is targeting not just young men and women but also the elderly.

DEMAND UNKNOWN

But Sato admitted that as yet Takara did not know how much demand there was out there for the vehicles, especially given the limited infrastructure for battery-powered cars.

It has set a modest sales target of 1,000 units in its first year but Sato said the vehicles would be profitable.

When news first broke in early January that Takara was thinking of building its electric vehicles, the company's shares shot up 10 percent to 1,039 yen.

But the jump was only temporary and the stock has since fallen back below the 1,000 mark, sliding 3.7 percent on Tuesday to close at 912. Still, the stock has made strong gains, climbing steadily from around 270 yen this time last year.

Although electric vehicles are eco-friendly, the hassle of recharging and relative lack of power have largely made them a flop for conventional automakers.

Their environmental efforts are now concentrated on hybrid-engined vehicles that combine a battery-powered motor and a gasoline engine and fuel-cell vehicles, which use hydrogen to produce electricity and only emit water.

Sato said the engine and transmission would be outsourced and Takara was still in talks with several companies.

To make the vehicles, Takara will set up a joint venture "Choro Q Motors" next month with Cox Inc, a car tune-up specialist, and possibly others.

Japanese media have reported that Araco Corp, an unlisted Toyota unit, may also participate in the venture but a Takara spokeswoman said the deal had not been finalised.

The joint venture will be capitalised at 490 million yen.

Sato said he expected the vehicles to be sold in toy shops, car dealerships, motorbike and bicycle stores. ($1=132.73 Yen)

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