In Japan, Vending Machines to Charge Electric Cars

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Vending machines in Tokyo, Japan. (AP Photo/Junji Kurokawa)

Sure, Japanese vending machines got a bad wrap awhile back for selling schoolgirls’ underwear, but that was then. If you’ve been to Tokyo recently, you know and love the machines’ for their convenience and ingenuity. For example, unlike their un-evolved counterparts in most of the world, Japanese vending machines have a couple of rows dedicated to hot drinks in winter — tea, coffee, etc. A small, compact can of hot lemon drink in December serves as both a pocketwarmer and a shot of sugar to keep you going until the next soba stand. Genius!

Now AFP reports there’s an even better reason to cheer the ubiquitous sentinel of the Japanese street corner: Soon, they’ll be able to charge your electric car too.

On Monday, a consortium of Japanese companies announced they would be partnering up to install 10,000 electric chargers at vending machine sites by the end of the year. Eventually, says vending machine manufacturer Forking Co., the machines themselves might incorporate the chargers. Forking currently owns over one million vending machines across Japan.

The proposal could help overcome “range anxiety” in Japan — the consumer concern that electric cars can’t go far enough on a charge. (Last year, GM, which manufacturers the plug-in hybrid Volt, announced it was trying to trademark the term.) Electric cars rely on expensive batteries and are often faulted for their short driving range. To help assuage this concern, electric car makers Toyota and Nissan announced a plan last year to help standardize recharging stations in Japan, with the eventual goal of creating an international standard.

In January, Mazda announced it would join in the electric race, and have its own battery-powered vehicle on the Japanese market by 2012. In the U.S., Ford has also announced its lineup of electric vehicles. In his State of the Union, Obama called on the U.S. to be the first nation to put one million electric cars on the road by 2015. But so far, sales remain low. According to Engadget, only 281 Chevy Volts and 67 Nissan Leafs were sold in the U.S. in February.

With numbers like that, the road looks wide open for Japan to get in the lead.

See TIME’s guide to what electric car to buy.