Mitsubishi Motors says it does not yet have a viable business case for developing plug-in hybrid vehicles to sit below its highly successful Outlander PHEV crossover.
This means that PHEV derivatives of vehicles such as the just-released Eclipse Cross have been shelved — though the company insists it is still investing significant resources in developing the technology more generally.
Mitsubishi is a world leader in PHEV drivetrains, capitalising on the growing number of jurisdictions with tempting buyer incentives to go greener, while skirting the still-thorny issue of pure-electric range anxiety.
The Outlander PHEV has motors on each axle with independent drive, powered by battery cells in the floor, giving it a unique AWD setup the company calls Super All-Wheel Control (S-AWC).
The batteries can be charged by the front-mounted petrol engine (which can also directly power the front wheels at higher driving speeds) or by being plugged into an external source. There are also various levels of regenerative engine braking.
Pure electric range is about 50km (top speed 120km/h) but the presence of the petrol engine as power source and generator means you can drive it effectively as an IC car for 500km and then fuel up at a servo.
The company has sold more than 100,000 Outlander PHEVs since 2013, owns more than 30 per cent market share in Europe (the world’s key driver of plug-ins) and is the top-selling car of its type in Norway, the UK and more.
But with the template set, the Japanese brand’s next major step-change — a new PHEV model — will not lob until the next-generation Outlander arrives, which is not likely to appear for a few years.
Mitsubishi Motors’ European general manager of communications Daniel Nacass told us last week that the numbers just don’t yet stack up for various other segments.
“Our next all-new PHEV will be the replacement for the current Outlander,” he said.
“Eclipse Cross was designed for PHEV, and the car can accommodate the PHEV drivetrain, however we decided to stop development of that version simply because the business case at that price range did not make sense, would not have enough return on investment.”
That said — and this is us speaking now — the PHEV remains a key point-of-difference for conservative Mitsubishi: a truly market-leading vehicle in terms of price, and market penetration, in a relatively cutting edge space.
Pictured: 2016 Mitsubishi Ground Tourer GT-PHEV concept
“We keep obviously working on PHEV development,” Nacass added. “Obviously PHEV systems we will fit to our next cars will have next-generation motors, batteries and more.”
Chrystal ball time. Last year's 2016 Mitsubishi Ground Tourer GT-PHEV concept offered a larger 25kWh battery pack, a 2.4-litre combustion engine, 90kW front electric motor (plus front LSD) and a 45kW on each rear wheel (two on the axle).
The promised electric-only range is 120 kilometres, and the hybrid cruising range is more than 1200km.
Nacass was also bullish about the recent incorporation of Mitsubishi into the Renault-Nissan Alliance. A key reason given at the time for Nissan’s 2 billion euro move was to access MMC’s PHEV tech to complement its strength in pure electric vehicles, such as the Leaf and NV200.
Given the point of the alliance is to find synergies and share technologies to amortise the costs faster — where it makes sense to do so — PHEV iterations of other future cars such as the shared-platform next-generation Mitsubishi Pajero and Nissan Patrol would also seem like obvious bets.
We’re currently guests of Mitsubishi in Europe exploring its PHEV technologies. The 2017 Outlander PHEV update arrives in Australia within a few weeks, and will again be priced around $50,000.