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He is one of New Zealand's wealthiest residents and has a direct line to Mayor Len Brown and national politicians.

Yet few Kiwis have heard of billionaire Soichiro Fukutake.

It's hard to get to know him through an interpreter, but the unassuming 65-year-old has wealth, according to Forbes magazine's annual compendium of the world's billionaires, that ranks him behind only two Kiwis - businessman Graeme Hart and Sovereign Group's Richard Chandler.

He is chairman of Japan's multi-billion-dollar Benesse Corporation, and commutes between downtown Auckland and the company's corporate headquarters in Okayama, Japan.

The family business, for which Fukutake has worked since 1973, is involved in educational and publishing ventures in Japan and abroad.

But he moved to New Zealand in 2009 after considering Canada and Australia as other places to base his family.

He set up a New Zealand holding company, efu Investment, and has taken a totally different direction, promoting green technologies, including the conversion of petrol cars to electric power and developing export markets for New Zealand spring water. The first bulk shipment is due to leave the country this year.

But Fukutake's heart is in the company's SIM-Drive system, which was unveiled at the ICE Ideas conference in Auckland last week. It is being offered as open-source technology, aiming to popularise electric vehicle (EV) technology.

Fukutake says the SIM-Drive cars could have motors in each wheel instead of a central engine and existing cars could be converted to the system for as little as $6000.

He says New Zealand needs to reduce its dependence on fuel and vehicle imports.

"Petrol and the automobile make up a quarter of the total value of our imports," Fukutake says.

Efu Investment would like to invest in New Zealand companies. "We would like to work with New Zealanders," says Fukutake. "We are able to consider investment in [EV and water] related businesses that contribute to New Zealand and the world."

Fukutake believes that, as a migrant, he has a different view of what's good for New Zealand. "I don't see it from eye-level. I can see it from a different angle," he says.

His interest in urban environments led to discussions with then-mayoral candidate Len Brown on community and township development before the Super City election.

Fukutake would like to see downtown Auckland's waterfront, where he lives, developed with better public transport such as light rail, the city in general made more visitor-friendly, and buildings better-designed. "Auckland's design is not as good as Wellington's," he says.

He would also like more government support for business, creating more jobs.

The concept that people could remain on the benefit throughout their working life dumbfounds him.

New Zealand has the potential to become a centre for environmental research and development and Fukutake believes the Government should be "proactive".