Is this the face of future motoring? Mitsubishi Motors in Australia certainly believes it is the direction we will all be heading, especially as far as city commuting goes.
Written by David Twomey
To enforce that point it has just obtained full Australian Design Rule (ADR) certification for this car, the electric powered i MiEV, which CarAdvice drove today on the streets of the South Australian capital, Adelaide.
The significance of that drive, which only lasted about 10 minutes, is probably yet to be fully realised but Mitsubishi Motors Australia Limited CEO, Robert McEniry, was very proud to point out that Australia was the first country outside of Japan to fully certify the i MiEV, for road use.
The car we drove yesterday is a pre-production prototype, but unlike the Subaru Plug-in Stella that we drove a few weeks ago in Melbourne, this vehicle will begin full production in Japan in less than two months, and it will go on general sale there before being rolled out in Europe either later this year or early in 2010.
The i MiEV, it stands for Mitsubishi innovated Electric Vehicle but that may not be its final production name, will also probably go on sale in Australia in the near future, assuming that Mr McEniry and his team can make a successful business case to head office in Japan, and they can convince the Australian authorities to support the vehicle.
The i MiEV is a zero emission drivetime vehicle, which means that it emits no tailpipe CO2 emissions, it doesn’t even have a tailpipe. However, it has to be acknowledged that the electricity it uses does produce CO2 emissions in the production phase, and the significance of that is open to debate.
The i MiEV is based on a Japanese model petrol powered car the Mitsubishi i, which is designed to conform to Japanese regulations known as K Class, and was chosen as the starting place for a full electric vehicle because of the suitability of the vehicle layout.
The i has a rear mounted petrol engine and a fuel tank that sits under neat the passengers.
MMAL vice-president of Brand and Marketing, Paul Unerkov, said it was a relatively easy step to replace the petrol engine in the rear with the electric motor and ancillary equipment and to position the battery packs under the passengers, where the fuel tank had been.
It was also the fact that the i MiEV is based on a production model that made it easier to obtain ADR certification in Australia as the vehicle is fully crashworthy and is designed to meet all the normal demands of a road vehicle.
It will carry four passengers and some luggage in reasonable comfort. It must be remembered that this vehicle is best described in Australian terms as a Sub-Light Car, that is it’s smaller than say a Mitsubishi Colt or a Toyota Yaris.
But having driven it with MMAL Research and Development manager, Ashley Sanders in the passenger seat we have to say that it is more than adequate for its intended job and feels just like a “normal” car.
Yes the car is small, both externally and internally, but it is not cramped and it has all the features that would be expected by an average city commuter, including air-conditioning and heating, which runs off the battery system.
The i MiEV is designed for city commuting, and has a range of 160 kilometres on a fully charged batter pack.
With total voltage measuring 330V, and total energy output at 16kWh, the compact lithium-ion battery and motor reside under the seating and in the back of the vehicle, allowing seating capacity for four and good size luggage compartment in the rear.
Requiring seven hours from a normal domestic household power supply for a full battery charge, the i MiEV should ideally be left to recharge overnight, making it perfect for daily commuting over common distances in a city landscape.
Recharging can also be done from ‘Fast Charge’ units which are starting to spring up in cities such as London and Paris and which Mitsubishi suggests will become common please throughout the world in the not –too-distant future.
It’s issues such as recharging and the handling of the additional load on the power supply system that MMAL plans to address with government and supply companies.
i MiEV’s electric motor produces the same 47kW of power as does the petrol powered i but the difference comes with the torque available.
The petrol powered car produces 94Nm while the electric car has 180Nm and all of it available from zero rpm, right up to the current rev limit of 8500rpm, which equates to a top speed of 130km/h.
Mitsubishi says the i MiEV’s electric motor is smaller, produces more torque at low revolutions and is quieter than a turbocharged petrol engine.
What that translates to on the road, certainly in urban traffic, is brisk performance and a level of drivability and handling that is nothing less than would be expected or found in any other car on the road.
Driving around an intricate and quite average route of suburban and city streets the i MiEV had no trouble in keeping up with a Lancer VRX lead car, accelerating away from rest with as much pace as any other car on the road.
Handling and braking were the same story, the car rides and handles like any small car with a level of control that is completely up to the job.
Admittedly as this car is rather precious, being the only one in the country at the moment, and because our drive route was under the guidance of Mitsubishi personnel, we weren’t throwing the car around, but then neither would the average user.
Braking was strong and progressive and can be aided by the use of a Brake position on the transmission control, which introduces an increased level of regenerative effect, using the motor to slow the car on lift off from the throttle and pumping power back into the batteries.
It’s a win-win situation as it produces more power for the batteries and reduces the load on the car’s braking system.
Drive and Eco Modes provide different levels of power output and there is a noticeable surge in power when the lever is moved from Eco, which conserves power and increases range, to Drive, which uses the full power of the motor.
The car is obviously silent but there is an acceptable level of road noise, which we suspect would be very easily drowned out by a normal sound system.
Other than the lack of engine noise we could have been driving any small car currently on the road.
The i MiEV is a rear-wheel drive vehicle with three ‘speeds’: Drive, Eco and Brake.
Drive is the full power mode where the car drives under normal mode, while Economic or ‘Eco’ mode allows the power to drop out automatically to extend the i MiEV’s cruising range and fuel efficiency.
Brake mode offers high regenerative braking that absorbs as much kinetic energy as possible – restoring power to the battery – and is perfect for downhill driving.
Mitsubishi says that compared to a similar sized petrol car, the running costs per kilometre are around 33 per cent lower. If charged during off-peak or night time hours the operating costs will be even less.
As part of its campaign to bring the i MiEV to Australia and to influence government to support the vehicle Mitsubishi has launched an i MiEV Motorcade of special events, public demonstrations, specialist briefings and individual drive experiences for key government officials, fleet managers, environmental opinion leaders, the media and select members of the general public.
This campaign began in Adelaide today and will then travel to Sydney (March 30th, 31st and April 1st), Canberra (April 3rd) and Melbourne (April 6th to 8th) before returning to MMAL head office in Adelaide.
Mr McEniry, expects the i MiEV will continue to receive heightened levels of interest from members of the government, media and public.
“This is the first time a production-ready electric vehicle has ever been accredited to tour Australian roads in this way. Even in the early stages of the cavalcade, we are attracting a very broad audience, which just goes to show the great variety of customers the i MiEV is likely to appeal to,” said Mr McEniry.
“Hybrid and alternative fuel vehicles are becoming increasingly common in this current environmentally conscious climate, but Australia hasn’t seen anything like the i MiEV before,” said Mr McEniry.
International interest in the vehicle has been considerable. Currently, the i MiEV is undergoing feasibility studies in several countries around the world, including the United States, Europe, Britain, New Zealand, Iceland, Canada, and now Australia.
Mr Unerkov said; “It’s great to finally see the i MiEV on the road. Mitsubishi is excited to be at the forefront of this cutting-edge technology.”
“Electric cars are no longer just a futuristic dream – they’re right here, right now.”
Like many new technologies the EV is not the final answer but it is a viable stepping-stone to the solution of our dependence on oil-based fuels and to the problems associated with global warming and pollution.
Mitsubishi is hoping to bring several more of the cars into Australian in the coming months to extend its local testing in preparation for an eventual launch onto the market and we would certainly be keen to drive such a car on an extended basis to evaluate its potential to help combat some of the issues confronting motorists.
There is one final, and BIG, question in all this and that is price.
Mitsubishi would not discuss price, which is likely to be very high in comparison to the style of the car, as a consequence of the high cost of the battery technology.
Mr McEniry made it plain that Mitsubishi would be pushing strongly for serious government subsidies initially to offset the high price and said that this had been the approach taken by the authorities in Japan, where considerable government subsidies will bring the price of the car down to a level not too far above that of its petrol-powered sibling.
He made it plan that it was time for the government to stop just talking about talking greenhouse issues and to start putting money it real world attempts at reducing emissions.
What do you think?
Mitsubishi i MiEV
Overall Length x Width x Height: 3395 x 1475 x 1600mm
Curb Weight: 1080kg
Seating Capacity: four
Maximum Speed: 130km/h
Cruising Distance with a single charge (10-15 mode): 160km
Motor Type: Permanent magnet synchronous
Maximum Output: 47kW
Maximum Torque: 180Nm
Drive System: Rear-wheel-drive
Battery Type: Lithium-ion
Total Voltage: 330 Volts
Total Energy: 16kWh