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Nissan Jolts Detroit

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Would you buy a car knowing it would grind to a halt after 100 miles? Probably not. That's why more of us aren't driving electric cars. Without recharging, they can't go the 350 miles or so a gasoline car can between fill-ups. And recharging takes up to eight hours.

Now, Nissan Motor Co. and partner Japan Storage Battery Co. think they have a partial solution: superquick-charging batteries that can rejuice to 80% full power in just 12 minutes. The new batteries will power a car no farther than previous ones--60 to 120 miles. But by alleviating fears of being stranded for hours, says Masato Fukino, senior project engineer at Nissan's Vehicle Research Laboratory near Tokyo, the new system "will cut the time to commercialization of electric vehicles in half, to five years."

WIDER RANGE. Nissan wants to take the lead in California, which has mandated that some electric cars go on sale there by 1998. It plans to set up pilot recharging stations there and in Japan and test them with a prototype electric car it's making. Commercial sales may start by 1995.

Major problems remain, however. Nissan's slim battery design and tiny 10-watt fans reduce resistance and disperse heat during charging. But a battery pack good for 100,000 miles or so would cost an estimated $2,300. What's more, their 400-volt charger is too big to build into cars. Fukino imagines charging stations at every convenience store, which seems a long way off.

To sell well, experts contend, electric vehicles must have a range of 250 miles or more. Detroit's Big Three recently formed a consortium to pour $100 million annually, half of it from the U. S. government, into developing car batteries that pack more power. Detroit says this may take years. But now that Japan is on the move, electric cars may get rolling faster than Motown thought.Karen Lowry Miller in Tokyo

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