Mitsubishi i-MiEV electric car at quick charging station

Mitsubishi i-MiEV electric car at quick charging station

In less than six weeks, fleet buyers in Japan will start receiving deliveries of the production version of the Mitsubishi i-MiEV electric car. Individual buyers will be able to place orders at the same time, for delivery starting next April.

The i-MiEV has turned into a smash success for struggling automaker Mitsubishi, which could use a few hits.  And its success has now prompted Mitsubishi to plan five more electric vehicles, to be launched from next year through 2013.

They include a left-hand-drive version of the i-MiEV, to be sold in Europe, and a small electric truck, both in 2010. The following year, Mitsubishi plans to introduce a larger all-electric vehicle based on a subcompact platform (the i-MiEV is a mini-car).

After that, the company plans a plug-in hybrid sport-utility vehicle, and a sportier model of the i-MiEV probably similar to the 2007 Mitsubishi i-MiEV Sport concept it unveiled at the Tokyo Motor Show.

Unexpected electric success

The i-MiEV has emerged as an unexpectedly popular electric car. It's the first highway-capable electric car put into production by a major automaker, although others will follow shortly from Nissan, Ford, Chevrolet, Toyota, and even Subaru.

But Mitsubishi has consistently had to raise its projections  for the i-MiEV. It will deliver 1,400 of the electric cars through next March, and now expects to sell 5,000 through March 2011; 15,000 in its second year, through March 2012; and 30,000 by 2013.

Mitsubishi said last week that it expects fully 20 percent of its output to be electric cars by 2020.

The company has also signed its long-rumored deal to build i-MiEVs for Peugeot, which will sell the car through its dealer network in France starting next year.

Cost: High. Size: Tiny.

The price to Japanese consumers will be 4.8 million yen (about $49,800), before special tax subsidies that will lower the cost to 3.2 million yen (roughly $31,100). Also, no taxes are charged in Japan on either electric cars or hybrids.

The four-seat, five-door hatchback i-MiEV uses a 16-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery that powers a 47-kilowatt motor driving the rear wheels through a one-speed transmission. A full recharge takes 7 hours on Japanese 200-Volt household current.  On the Japanese driving cycle, Mitsubishi quotes a range of 100 miles.

The name combines the "i" model name of the base gasoline vehicle--yep, it's just known as the Mitsubsihi "i"--with the abbreviation for Mitsubishi innovative Electric Vehicle. In case you're wondering, it's pronounced "EYE-meeve".

A few i-MiEVs are being tested in California by utilities and other fleets. The company has said it might offer the next i-MiEV to US buyers. Until then, if we want our own i-MiEV in the United States, we'll have to build it ourselves.

Next, we'll bring you impressions from our test drive of the Mitsubishi i-MiEV ... stay tuned.

Mitsubishi i-MiEV Sport Concept

Mitsubishi i-MiEV Sport Concept

Mitsubishi i-MIEV electric car

Mitsubishi i-MIEV electric car

[Nikkei via Green Car Congress; Automotive News, subscription required; Associated Press]