Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Mitsubishi unveils first mass-market electric car from a major car maker

Mitsubishi has unveiled the first mass-market electric car from a mainstream car maker.
Slightly bigger than the Smart ForTwo but with a similar design, the i-MiEV — which goes on sale in the UK later this year — is based on the i, Mitsubishi's existing city car. With room for four adults, it has a top speed of 87mph and produces the equivalent of 57 horsepower. Its lithium-ion battery has a range of 100 miles and can be charged from flat to 80% in 20 minutes using Mitsubishi's bespoke high-powered charger; otherwise, a normal mains electricity socket will charge the battery from flat to full in six hours. Mitsubishi estimates that the car can travel 10,000 miles on £45 of electricity at current UK domestic prices.
Jim Tyrrell, managing director of Mitsubishi, said: "The i-MiEV is a great example of Mitsubishi's ability to innovate and bring the latest technology to market. We have a city car to suit real-world users with its ease of use, great environmental credentials and very low running costs."
Around 200 cars will be available in the UK at first, with final costs yet to be determined. A Mitsubishi spokesperson the cars might not be sold outright, but be leased at a cost of around £750 a month.
Kieren Puffett, editor of car website who took the i-MiEV for a test drive today, said the car was ideal for urban areas. "Through the town, the car is particularly torquey, it can get away from traffic lights and across roundabouts really quite quickly. That's quite a nice benefit for town driving."
He added: "Because it's based on an existing city car, the characteristics are fairly familiar. If someone got in, I don't think they'd notice anything massively adrift."
Puffett had some reservations, however, about Mitsubishi's claims on the car's range. "I deliberately drove the car with headlights, heater and the radio on. I did about 50 minutes of driving and covered about 22 miles — and I discharged the battery to half way from full."
Robert Evans, chief executive of Cenex, a government-backed agency that is leading the introduction of low-carbon road transport to the UK, welcomed the i-MiEV. He said that momentum towards the increased electrification of transport had been building in the UK ever since the publication of a report by Julia King, vice chancellor of Aston University and a former director of advanced engineering at Rolls-Royce. Working with economist Nicholas Stern, King reviewed the vehicle and fuel technologies which could help to decarbonise road transport in the next 25 years. They identified electric cars as a major feature of the future of personal transport.
"If progress is to be maintained, the public needs to be convinced that electric vehicles are a practical proposition that are capable of fulfilling their transport needs," said Evans. "The UK launch of the Mitsubishi i-MiEV — capable of carrying four passengers and with a range of 100 miles — marks an important step in this process.''
Mitsubishi has been developing its electric vehicle technology since 1995, most notably producing in-wheel electric motors that were showcased in an all-electric Lancer Evolution rally car in 2005 though Tyrrell said that specific technology was some way from market yet. This allows each wheel to be driven independently by its own motor. "In-wheel technology lends itself very well to 4-wheel drive performance but is not cost-effective when considering mass-market applications."
Lance Bradley, sales director at Mitsubishi, said: "The i-MiEV is just one of Mitsubishi's environmental initiatives to be unveiled this year. In February, we will launch the Colt ClearTec which uses stop-start technology to radically reduce CO2 emissions. ClearTec technology will be rolled out across most vehicles in the Mitsubishi range within the next three years."
Tyrrell said that as car makers bring out their electric cars he and others were now waiting for a "clear strategic direction and financial support from central government" on ways to make electric cars more attractive to consumers. This could perhaps include giving local authorities clearer direction to start initiatives such as free parking or exemption from certain taxes for electric cars.
The Guardian