Appreciating the i-MiEV: oldest modern electric car still in production after 10 years

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2017 Mitsubishi i-MiEV

2017 Mitsubishi i-MiEV

Think back, if you can, to early 2008. In the real world, that's just 10 years ago, but in electric-car time, it's several millennia.

The Tesla Roadster had been announced, but hadn't yet struggled into production.

The Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt were still deep in development, and the plan for a Tesla Model S hadn't been announced beyond a vague promise in Tesla's published 2006 "Secret Master Plan."

DON'T MISS: RIP Mitsubishi i-MiEV: lowest-range, slowest electric car departs U.S. market (Aug 2017)

So it was nothing short of a revelation when Mitsubishi announced it would produce and sell a modern battery-electric hatchback, capable of seating four adults, with a range of 60 to 80 miles from a 16-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack.

That plan followed several years of testing prototypes of the Mitsubishi i-MiEV, itself adapted from a Japanese minicar called the "i" first sold in 2005.

The i-MiEV went on sale in the U.S. in November 2011 and was finally withdrawn from the North American market after the 2017 model year.

2017 Mitsubishi i-MiEV

2017 Mitsubishi i-MiEV

2017 Mitsubishi i-MiEV

2017 Mitsubishi i-MiEV

2017 Mitsubishi i-MiEV

2017 Mitsubishi i-MiEV

2016 Mitsubishi i-MiEV Quick Drive - photo credit Doug Berger, NWAPA

2016 Mitsubishi i-MiEV Quick Drive - photo credit Doug Berger, NWAPA

That car, remarkably, remains in production even today at the Mizushima plant in Japan—and it can still be purchased new in that country and several European markets.

Now the second-generation of the Nissan Leaf is available, rated at 151 miles, as well as the 238-mile Chevrolet Bolt EV. That's huge progress in 10 years, so it seems like a good time to turn back and offer some words of appreciation to the world's first mass-priced modern electric car.

According to Mitsubishi, the company had built 46,827 i-MiEVs as of the end of February, though a mere 2,100 were sold in the U.S.

CHECK OUT: Drive Report: 2010 Mitsubishi i-MiEV Electric Car (Jun 2009)

Half of those U.S. sales came during 2013, also the Leaf's highest-selling year to date, when competing electric cars were far more sparse than they are today.

But for a couple of years before the i-MiEV officially went on sale, Mitsubishi held demonstrations and loaned out test cars—in some cases, right-hand-drive examples from Japan before re-engineering to meet U.S. safety standards had been completed.

We had our own ride and drive in an i-MiEV in December 2008, in the streets outside a conference in Washington, D.C.

RHD Mitsubishi i-MiEV and Tesla Roadster electric cars, February 2010 [photo: Chelsea Sexton]

RHD Mitsubishi i-MiEV and Tesla Roadster electric cars, February 2010 [photo: Chelsea Sexton]

We were able to confirm it did actually fit four adults, with plenty of headroom and adequate legroom, even if their shoulders tended to touch.

Longtime electric-car advocate Chelsea Sexton wrote in February 2010 about her family's week with one of those RHD i-MiEVs, which they nicknamed Mr. Bean.

Once the i-MiEV hit the market, a few of the very earliest of early adopters snapped them up and embarked on a process much of the world will undergo over the next 30 years: learning what it's like to live with an electric car day to day.

Of course, others were more ambitious: a team of Canadians drove an i-MiEV across the country in the "Clean Across Canada" drive in the fall of 2010.

The i-MiEV also proved popular among urban dwellers in crowded Japanese and European cities, and Mitsubishi ultimately expanded the lineup in Japan only to include a tiny pickup truck and delivery van as well.

Mitsubishi i-MiEV electric car used for Clean Across Canada long-distance drive, Autumn 2010

Mitsubishi i-MiEV electric car used for Clean Across Canada long-distance drive, Autumn 2010

Mitsubishi i-MiEV electric pickup truck, seen in New Zealand, 2018 [photo: Chelsea Sexton]

Mitsubishi i-MiEV electric pickup truck, seen in New Zealand, 2018 [photo: Chelsea Sexton]

Mitsubishi i-MiEV electric pickup truck, seen in New Zealand, 2018 [photo: Chelsea Sexton]

Mitsubishi i-MiEV electric pickup truck, seen in New Zealand, 2018 [photo: Chelsea Sexton]

In the U.S., one of those early adopters was our auto-writing colleague and friend Mark Vaughn of AutoWeek—who wrote a memorable 2016 road test titled, "I-Miev: We test the worst-selling car in America!"

That article wasn't a conventional road test, since it reflected on his own five years with the Mitsubishi i-MiEV he bought in December 2011.

That car now has almost 53,000 miles on it. Vaughn laid out his fondness for the little egg-shaped electric car in further comments for Green Car Reports:

2017 Mitsubishi i-MiEV

2017 Mitsubishi i-MiEV

Yes, I'm the guy who bought the i-MiEV. Maybe there’s another one out there, but not many. Before this cute little road pod was finally and mercifully taken off the market last year, Mitsubishi sold a whopping 40 of them a month. I don’t really understand why.

Here’s my deal: I write about cars for a living, and I’ve done so for 35 years. So I’ve driven everything ever made in the modern era of wheeled anything, from the Bugatti Veyron to… to the i-MiEV.

I stopped being impressed by “luxury marques” and brand engineering long ago, I have no interest in impressing the neighbors. I actually prefer anonymity when I drive.

When I bought it, there were only two battery-electric cars on the market: the i-MieV and the Nissan Leaf. But the Leaf was $6,000 more, which made the Mitsubishi the obvious choice.

I charge it via electricity generated from solar panels on the roof of my house. In theory, it could be the last thing running when the oil runs out.

2016 Mitsubishi i-MiEV Quick Drive

2016 Mitsubishi i-MiEV Quick Drive

I like it not just because it’s eco-friendly, but because, as a wannabe engineer, it is the most efficient means of transportation short of light rail or an electric skateboard (the latter which won’t hold four people).

It actually does seat four full-sized adults, has room for luggage, and the rear seats fold down so you can put a bike back there. It's the ultimate in efficient transportation.

After all these miles I still love it and would do it all over again.

The one thing I’m disappointed in—though I shouldn’t be, because it was to be expected—is the reduction in range over six years. It started out with an official 62-mile EPA range, and I could get 80 if I tried. Once I even got 100 miles.

Now it’ll do 40 or so miles. Mitsubishi told me the dealer can test it to determine whether the range depletion is “normal.” If it’s not, I'll get a new battery; if that decline is within the specs, tough cookies.

I believe the future is electric, not because it's cleaner—though it is—but because it's the most efficient way to get a wheel to turn.

Mitsubishi i-MiEV electric car at quick charging station

Mitsubishi i-MiEV electric car at quick charging station

We couldn't have said it better ourselves.

But here's a thought: If the i-MiEV was a revelation in 2008, and a glimpse of what might be possible to imagine 10 years later ... what will today's electric cars look like from the vantage point of 2028?

And what kind of electric cars will be on the market by then?

 
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