Mitsubishi i: the electric era looms
Mitsubishi’s first fully electric car slated for mid-2010 release in Japan will be the i city car – and UK bosses are secretly preparing to launch it here by early 2011. A research vehicle called the i MIEV (Mitsubishi Innovative Electric Vehicle) is already being tested and, according to UK managing director Jim Tyrrell who drove it recently in Japan, 'looks road-ready and perfect'. Tyrrell is confident of selling 2000-3000 electric i cars, as UK buyers are cottoning on fast to the benefits of green cars. The conventionally powered 0.7-litre petrol version of the urban runabout goes on sale in Britain from 1 July with an initial allocation of 300 units - and if it proves to be a big success, Tyrrell will campaign to import the electric version to the UK soon after. Prices are theoretical at this stage, but Tyrrell predicts a £3000-4000 premium over the petrol's £9084 price tag. That's a lot for a tiny city car, but don't forget that this will be one of very few zero-emissions cars on sale.
So where does all the electric gubbins go?
The i's rear-engined layout and platform is particularly suited to electric propulsion: the lithium-ion battery fits where the under-seat fuel tank on the petrol version goes, while the electric motor and on-board charger live in the engine bay. The electric motor develops 47kW (equivalent to about 63bhp) and 133lb ft of torque – making it more muscular than the conventional petrol-powered i. It even tops a heady 81mph. The i MIEV has two plugs for recharging. The quick-charge plug can achieve 80 percent capacity in only 25 minutes (but requires a fast-charging infrastructure still under development), while the onboard charger works with today's ordinary household electric plug sockets – but this takes a considerably longer at between seven and 13 hours depending on local country voltage.
The acid question for electric cars... what's the range?
In August 2007, Mitsubishi will begin fleet testing the vehicle with power companies and engineers hope to extend the range of the lithium-ion batteries from the current car’s 100-mile limit to 125 miles (200km). The i MIEV is a development of Mitsubishi's former electric concept, the Mitsubishi in-wheel motor Electric Vehicle, also confusingly called MIEV for short, and the company's other concepts like the EZ and CT have showcased motors in all four wheels. Mitsubishi continues to develop this in-wheel technology, but it's some way from a production reality.