Mazda Motor said on Monday it would join a growing list of automakers entering the electric car market, starting with lease sales of a battery-run subcompact in Japan in the spring of 2012.
The Japanese automaker's first zero-emission, battery-run model will be based on the Mazda2/Demio subcompact and will have an estimated driving range of about 200 km (124 miles) on a full charge, the company said. Mazda will lease its the car mainly to local government bodies and fleet customers in Japan.
The plan marks a slight change in course for Japan's fifth-biggest automaker, which had said it would focus on improving the fuel economy of its gasoline and diesel cars until 2015.
"We want to be able to respond right away" if there turns out to be demand for electric cars for short-range travel, Mazda Chief Executive Takashi Yamanouchi told reporters in Tokyo.
He added that Mazda would aim for a price tag of less than 3 million yen ($36,350) after subsidies, and declined to disclose a sales target or identify the supplier for the car's batteries.
While electric vehicles' expensive batteries and limited driving range remain a weakness, many automakers including Volkswagen AG and Toyota Motor Corp have joined pioneers Mitsubishi Motors Corp and Nissan Motor Co in announcing plans to sell the zero-emission cars as governments tighten environmental regulations.