It’s not always best to be first. When Mitsubishi was the first major manufacturer to announce an all-electric version of it’s sub-compact i City Car back in 2006 the company had a major head-start on the competition. But with the 2011 Chevrolet Volt, 2011 Nissan Leaf and 2011 Coda Sedan snapping at the heels of the bubble-shaped i-Miev, things aren’t going Mitsubishi’s way.

As we’ve learned from Ryan Beene from Automotive News, the U.S. Specification 2011/12 i-Miev is about to undergo some major redesigns in an attempt to make the car more acceptable to the U.S. consumer.

The redesign will be the third time engineers and designers have reworked the i-Miev’s curves to ready it for a new market.  

The redesign of the U.S. model isn’t just a change in trim however. In addition to an updated interior with more gadgets to keep the occupants entertained on a drive the 2011/12 i-Miev will gain a few inches in width.

Prince Albert of Monaco and Mitsubishi iMiEV

Prince Albert of Monaco and Mitsubishi iMiEV

In addition to improving already excellent handling, Mitsubishi hopes the additional width will improve the i-Miev’s crash test rating, not to mention cabin comfort. The changes are welcome to anyone who found the arm room in the i-Miev models currently on trial in California and Oregon lacking.

Mitsubishi has been feeling the pinch lately of the electric car price wars, cutting a massive $15,500 off the U.K. list price in order to compete on price with Nissan’s 2011 Leaf.  While both cars are now similarly priced in Europe, the Leaf features more room, more gadgets and a higher level of trim than the i-Miev, not to mention a fifth seat.

More disturbing though, are the experiences that some test-leasees in the U.K. are having with Mitsubishi’s 2010 i-Miev fleet.

Launched as part of a U.K. governmental test scheme last winter, Mitsubishi was the first major automaker to offer a lease scheme as part of feasibility and engineering tests into the car.

But as some i-Miev owners are experiencing, there are a few teething problems with the fleet.  One leasee has had continued problems with their car, resulting in repeated repairs caused by auxiliary battery drain while the i-Miev was not being used.

We’ve also heard reports of range being much less than the advertised 100 miles Mitsubishi claims, especially in very cold weather.  



Interestingly, both Citroen and Peugeot, both part of the French PSA group, are offering rebadged versions of the Mitsubishi i-Miev for European customers this fall. But for U.S. customers, the only choice is to wait until next Fall, when the redesigned i-Miev is set to launch.

While teething problems and redesigns are common with any new car, we hope Mitsubishi can tackle reliability issues and price concerns before launching in the U.S. market. Failure to do these two things will no doubt leave the 2011/12 Mitsubishi i-Miev well in the shadow of Nissan, Coda and Chevrolet.

[Automotive News (subscription required)]