Mitsubishi was the earliest maker to launch a modern battery-electric small car and sell it in volume, and Nissan has emerged as by far the world's highest-volume seller of electric cars.

Now the two makers have announced they're teaming up to develop an inexpensive electric minicar.

According to Nikkei, it will go into production before the end of March 2017.

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The news answers the question of what will happen to the aging Mitsubishi i-MiEV electric minicar, first introduced in Japan back in 2008 and launched in North America for the 2012 model year.

2015 Nissan Leaf

2015 Nissan Leaf

The i-MiEV itself was briefly the world's best-selling electric car, until the advent of the Nissan Leaf in December 2010, which captured the crown within a matter of months and has never given it back.

Assembling electric cars on three continents and aiming for volumes in the six figures each year, Nissan is determined to become to electric cars what Toyota is to hybrids: the dominant global player.

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Mitsubishi, meanwhile, is a small and struggling maker with long experience not only in battery-electric cars but plug-in hybrids.

And Nissan presently has no counterpart to the Mitsubishi Outlander Plug-In Hybrid SUV, which was among the top three plug-in vehicles sold in Europe last year--and even outsold the Leaf itself.

Mitsubishi Outlander Plug-In Hybrid quick drive (European model)

Mitsubishi Outlander Plug-In Hybrid quick drive (European model)

The announcement is a follow-up to the joint venture established between the two carmakers to build a gasoline-powered minicar that replaces the gasoline Mitsubishi "i" in Japan along with a Nissan kei-class minicar never seen in North America.

Because the tiny kei cars are so specialized, meeting a strict set of Japanese regulations limiting their length, width, height, and power output, they're largely confined to that market--and volumes are limited.

MORE: 2014 Mitsubishi i-MiEV: Arriving At Dealers, Updated, Cheaper

A joint venture to produce gasoline kei cars made sense for the two makers, and now an electric adaptation of that car--just as the i-MiEV was adapted from the gasoline "i"--seems to be the likely outcome of this announcement.

Whether the car would be sold in North America is debatable; the i-MiEV has not been a sales success for Mitsubishi, with only 1,800 sold in the U.S. since 2011, against almost 58,000 Leafs since December 2010.


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