I’ve got four large adults (one of these guys is 195cm and of solid build) in Mitsubishi’s 100 percent electric car known as the Mitsubishi i-MiEV and we’re punting up a fairly decent slope around the Rocks in Sydney, easier than any K-class petrol equivalent could ever hope to manage. My initial thoughts are, it's impressive.
In fact, I’d go so far as to call it quick and surprisingly effortless in its ability to negotiate hills and perform quick getaways from the lights. Wind it up, and it's good for 130km/h and that's speed limited.
Better still, during the last 15 minutes behind the wheel we haven’t used a single drop of petrol, despite my becoming attached to that feeling of 180 Newton-metres of thrust from the very instant you jump on the throttle.
It’s 2010 and Electric Vehicles (EVs) have well and truly arrived folks, and if the i-MiEV is any indication of how things will be in the very near future, then I’m all in.
If you walked into a Mitsubishi dealership in Tokyo today, you could buy an i-MiEV exactly the same as this car for the equivalent of AUD$45,000 after various government incentives and subsidies, which drive down the price of this brand new technology.
But in Australia, you’ll have to wait in line a while longer for your i-MiEV as Mitsubishi Motors competes with much of Europe for its allocation of this rather smart looking K-Class EV.
In addition, state and federal governments will need to get on board with similar incentives to those adopted in other parts of the world, or the price for this EV could be as high as AUD$60,000.
Congested super cities such as Paris and London, where there are major cost benefits in place for both the upfront purchase and running of an electric vehicle, will most likely be well ahead of Australia in the i-MiEV queue.
And big cities are where you’re going find the vast majority of i-MiEVs living, particularly when you factor in their maximum range of between 100-160 kilometres on a full charge, depending on which drive mode you select and how you treat the throttle.
I know what you’re thinking, 100-160 kilometres is nothing! You’re right, if you compare it to the average range you get out of your petrol powered car, but here’s the catch, 87 percent of daily trips undertaken by drivers in Sydney are less than 100 kilometres per day.
If you look at a smaller city such as Adelaide by comparison, the rationale for the i-MiEV is even more compelling, with no less than 98 percent of trips being less than 100 kilometres.
Just think about the implications of owning an EV for a minute. That’s no more stopping at petrol stations to and from work (they’ll be as obsolete as a Panasonic VHS player). Simply park the car in your garage and plug it into the nearest single phase 15-amp power point (make sure the power is on) and forget about it until morning, when you'll have a full charge of juice to tackle another day, brilliant!
But is the i-MiEV effective in reducing harmful CO2 emissions and reducing our addiction to fossil fuels?
It most definitely is, but only if you charge the car using renewable energy, otherwise the case for EV’s doesn’t yet stack up. In fact, there are plenty of highly efficient small cars on the road today, which are a cleaner proposition than the i-MiEV, when you factor in the amount of ‘dirty’ electricity needed to continually charge the car.
Clean power from the likes of solar panels or wind turbines, is what it’s all about with EV’s. That may be as easy as installing several solar panels on your rooftop (subsidised of course) and charging the car at night when the demand and price for electricity drops dramatically.
To a certain extent, Australia is well behind in the EV stakes. In Tokyo and Paris, there are already so called ‘fast charge’ stations in operation, which can provide an 80 percent charge in just 30 minutes. No doubt, you can have an espresso while you wait too.
But that’s the here and now. There are literally dozens of high-tech companies around the world working on advanced batteries for electric vehicles such as nano-scale ultracapacitors, which could triple the power and range of an EV, eliminating the need for fast charge facilities, altogether.
The i-MiEV is powered by banks of high-density Lithium-ion battery pack mounted in the floor of the vehicle and make up about 20 percent of the car’s 1,080-kilogram weight, while generating 330Volts of electricity.
The small highly efficient ‘permanent magnet synchronous electric motor produces just 47 Kilowatts of power, and that’s more than adequate to move the i-MiEV along rapidly, when you factor in the torque output.
Driving the i-MiEV actually feels no different to driving any other small car. You have a ‘smart’ key, which you can leave in your pocket, as you won’t need it to switch on the electric motor.
To do that, just turn the toggle as you would a normal key on the steering column and it all comes to life although, you wouldn’t know it, but for the graphics on the power metre and a short ‘ding’, which means that you’re good to go.
You then need to choose the drive mode you want D: Drive, E: Eco (Economy), B: Brake although, they’re all quite useful depending on your driving needs at the time.
In 'Drive' mode, you get the most torque up front and believe me, this thing really does get moving and that’s with a full carload of people.
What will take some getting used to, is motoring along in dead silence. I mean you could here a pin drop inside the cabin. On the other hand, it’s a rather calming experience although, we wonder about the safety aspects of a ‘run silent’ vehicle from a pedestrian’s perspective.
Selecting E: Eco, meant slightly less juice for take offs but still more than enough torque for everyday driving needs.
The B: Brake mode offers regenerative braking, which reduces your speed by converting the kinetic energy into battery energy. That meant I barely needed to use the brake pedal, as the moment I took my foot off it, the car slowed dramatically.
After only a few minutes behind the wheel of the MiEV, it felt like any other small car but for a few small quirks, and something I could easily get used to.
Mitsubishi has done exceptionally well to bring a proper electric vehicle to market so quickly.
How popular EV’s become here in Australia, will depend largely on how serious our government is about renewable energy.