sketch of wider, U.S.-specification 2012 Mitsubishi i-MiEVEnlarge Photo
Six degrees of separation: The theory that every person on the planet is connected to every other person in six steps or fewer--Elon Musk perhaps, or his polar opposite, Jeremy Clarkson.
The automotive world is similar. A new technology partnership between the Renault-Nissan Alliance and Mitsubishi Motors Corporation could connect more cars than ever before--and is likely to beget the next Mitsubishi i-MiEV electric car, using Renault and Nissan expertise.
The companies today announced their intention to "explore several new projects", with existing links between Nissan and Mitsubishi now to spread across the larger Renault-Nissan Alliance.
Kei-car = new i-MiEV?
Priority One is something the companies describe as "a new small-segment car, including a specific electric version that can be sold on a global basis".
This basis is a jointly-developed kei car--the Japanese class of small vehicles conforming to strict size and power requirements.
While no specific vehicle is mentioned, it's interesting to note that Mitsubishi's i-MiEV electric vehicle started out as a kei-class vehicle--and indeed, is still sold as such in its home market and other markets outside the U.S.
Putting two and two together, this new electric small car is likely to be the new i-MiEV--and perhaps Nissan too will have a variant, just as each company has versions of the gasoline kei cars they jointly developed under the NMKV project.
Mitsubishi will likely replace its aging 'i' rear-engine minicar with an NMKV model, using a more conventional transverse-engine front-wheel-drive layout.
Future electric minicars on tap
2013 Nissan Leaf (Japanese trim)
2013 Nissan Leaf (Japanese trim)Enlarge Photo
It's the group's comments that cooperation could spread across the broader Renault-Nissan Alliance that intrigue us, though.
It's no secret that Renault is already developing its own small car with Daimler's Smart brand. This car will be sold in two- and four-seat variants across the two brands (as the Smart Fortwo, Forfour and the Renault Twingo), all using a rear-wheel-drive setup.
Electric versions are also planned, to be sold as both Renaults and the next version of the Smart ForTwo Electric Drive.
With that drivetrain already in development, and given Renault's partnership with Nissan, it isn't too much of a jump to question whether Mitsubishi's next i-MiEV--itself a rear-drive electric city car--will share components with Smart and Renault.
2014 Smart ForTwo Electric DriveEnlarge Photo
There's little guarantee they'll share a platform--though Smart did once sell a kei-car version of the Fortwo in Japan, complete with sub-660cc engine.
Any drivetrain similarities would rely on Nissan and Mitsubishi cramming those electric components into a narrow kei-spec body. At 5'4", the next Smart is half a foot wider than kei regulations allow.
We wonder, too, whether Mitsubishi will stick with its existing lithium-ion cell technology, or improve its economies of scale by switching to the much higher-volume cells used by Nissan (and some electric Renaults)?
The next few years could be busy ones indeed for Nissan and Mitsubishi--though whether the electric fruits of their labor will reach U.S. shores (given the current i-MiEV's slow sales) is another matter entirely.