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Mitsubishi banks on electric cars for its future

Mitsubishi banks on electric cars for its future with the i-MiEV electric vehicleWhile competitors Toyota and Honda were busy creating a market for hybrid cars with the Prius and the Insight, Mitsubishi was struggling to survive a joint venture with Daimler and Chrysler that was ultimately doomed to failure.  The manufacturer was distinctly behind in the environmentally friendly car front but has jumped squarely into the game and now leads the way with its i-MiEV (“innovative Mitsubishi electric vehicle”).  Slightly bigger than the Smart ForTwo, the i-MiEV is the world’s first production line electric vehicle from a major car maker.

Mitsubishi i-MiEV electric vehicleThe i-MiEV is based on the Mitsubishi 660cc “i” super compact car, popular in Japan and has room for four adults and has a top speed of 87mph, producing the equivalent of 57 horsepower. Its lithium-ion battery has a range of 100 miles and can be charged from empty to eighty percent in twenty minutes using a high speed charger.  Alternatively, mains power can be used to charge the battery from flat to fully charged in six hours. Mitsubishi estimates that the car can travel 10,000 miles on £45 of electricity at 2009 UK domestic prices.

Its lithium-ion battery can be charged to eighty percent in twenty minutes using a high speed charger or fully from mains power in six hours. According to Osama Masuko, Mitsubishi’s President, the i-MiEV is just the beginning of the manufacturer’s electric vehicle line-up.  He recently stated that “developing environmentally sound products is key to the company’s survival”, and plans for a mid-sized compact EV to compete with the likes of Honda’s Fit and Toyota’s Yaris as well as a commercial vehicle based on the i-MiEV, designed to appeal to business owners.  Initial production of the i-MiEV will be limited to 2,000 units and is currently only available on lease, but Mitsubishi is taking orders from retail customers.

The lithium ion will be protected by the rigid shell of each car’s body and a second anti-impact cage for their safetyMitsubishi will also plan to increase the distances its EVs can be driven to over 125 miles, compared with the i-MiEV’s current limit of 100 miles when fully charged. One innovative idea being considered at Mitsubishi is to offer a selection of ranges when buying the car, which include cheaper models that travel shorter distances on a single charge.  All of the cars are planned to feature lithium ion batteries, a relatively new technology for electric vehicles.  These will be protected by the rigid shell of each car’s body and a second anti-impact cage for their safety.

EV and hybrid future sales plans

Mitsubishi is pushing ahead with its electric plans at a time when the wider auto industry is in crisis. Despite car sales being depressed in most markets, Mitsubishi plans on either electric cars or hybrids accounting for 20% of its new car sales by 2020.  By comparison, Toyota and Honda, currently accounting for more than 90% of worldwide hybrid sales, are aiming for roughly 10% of sales to come from hybrids by the early 2010s.

Will Mitsubishi’s electric vehicle plan work?

The i-MiEV has been getting worldwide attention but industry experts aren’t as convinced that Mitsubishi’s plans will come to fruition.  The company’s lead in the electric vehicles market may not be relieving the pain that Mitsubishi’s employees are suffering as they endure pay cuts as a cost cutting exercise.  Toyota has demonstrated that a “green” image is hugely valuable to a car manufacturer with it’s hybrid cars and for Mitsubishi, who has seen the value of it’s stock rise by 36% since launched it’s market leading eco-EV as a result.   Ultimately though, market analysts are concerned that Mitsubishi’s EV and plug-in hybrid plans will make little impact on its profitability, as Mitsubishi has only made an annual profit four times in the last decade.

Mitsubishi’s future

As the company increases it’s production of electric vehicles in Japan and plans exporting to Europe in late 2010 and to the U.S. in 2011 or 2012, Mitsubishi will also build EVs for PSA Peugeot Citroën in Europe.  PSA Peugeot Citroen already sells two 4x4s based on Mitsubishi’s Outlander and shares a factory in Russia.  Ultimately there is the issue of creating demand for electric vehicles and many buyers may be put off by high prices, short driving ranges and recharging issues. Mitsubishi points out that the i-MiEV’s 100-mile range is ample for many drivers, and this is a valid point as 50% of all journeys are less than two miles in the UK.

Ultimately only time will tell, and with governments pushing to reduce carbon emissions and give incentives to drivers to buy alternative fuel vehicles consumers will begin to see the financial benefits.  In the UK from 2010, an extension of the current scrappage scheme will mean a £5,000 payment for the trade in of an older car towards a hybrid or electric vehicle.  As more and more car buyers become more environmentally aware and the planet’s oil supply diminishes electric vehicles and alternative fuelled cars are an inevitability and Mitsubishi are already blazing a trail in the right direction.

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One Response to “Mitsubishi banks on electric cars for its future”

  1. Electric vehicles are the future in the automotive world. As fossil fuel is getting depleted electric cars are seen as the next better option by many automotive companies. I am sure that many companies will be ready to invest in the electric car technology.

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