Mitsubishi Drives Into Electric Minicar Market

Mitsubishi Drives Into Electric Minicar Market

Japan's Mitsubishi Motors has unveiled its first electric minicar, heralding its entry into the zero-emission auto market.

The i-MiEV, short for Mitsubishi Innovative Electric Vehicle, will be available to corporate and government customers in Japan starting in July, while consumers in the country will have to wait until April 2010. A launch in global markets, including the U.S. and China, is being planned.

The minicar emits no carbon dioxide, being solely powered by a 300V, 16kWh lithium ion battery pack that allows the vehicle to drive up to 160km on a full charge. The battery can be charged via household outlets, with a 110V outlet taking 12-14 hours, or half that time through 220V. It also has a fast charge connector that can power up 80 percent of the battery's capacity in 30 minutes at quick charge stations now being installed in Japan.

The i-MiEV costs $47,500 (£29,500), excluding a national government subsidy of up to $14,000 that is available to buyers of clean energy vehicles. Mitsubishi aims to sell 1,400 units in Japan by March 31, 2010, with the target rising to 15,000 in 2011.

While the company acknowledges that the cost is "a major hurdle to encouraging people to buy the car," mass production will usher in lower prices. More than 30,000 electric minicars would need to be produced in order for the model to be profitable.

Until then, it will go up against hybrid vehicles by Mitsubishi's homegrown rivals that are priced about half as much as the i-MiEV. Toyota Motors' Prius hybrid was Japan's best-selling car for the month of May, followed with Honda's hybrid, Insight.

However, the i-MiEV has the advantage of arriving early to market. Electric minicar launches by Toyota and Honda are not expected until 2012, while limited competition will come from Fuji Heavy Industries' Subaru Plug-In Stella.

Only 170 units of the Plug-In Stella electric minicar will be released from next month through to March 2010, with sales primarily targeted at fleet and government users. The vehicle is priced at $48,700.

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