Plug-in expansion back on track, with extended-range next-gen Outlander PHEV first and more to follow. But an electrified Triton is eight years away.
- shares

Progress hasn’t come as fast as once expected, but Mitsubishi Motors now has more solid and tenable plans to both improve the pure electric range of its plug-in hybrid system, and add the technology to models beyond the Outlander.

It also stands poised to be the development ‘hub’ for this form of petrol-electric tech within the huge Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance, putting it in a stronger position to defend the market position it attained by launching the Outlander PHEV well ahead of the curve.

You can expect the 2020 Outlander PHEV, which will share its CMF-C architecture with the next Nissan X-Trail and Renault Koleos, to get an improved pure-electric range of between 80 and 100km – up from 50km at present – before the petrol engine kicks in. The EV range will roughly match the new BMW X5 PHEV’s if this eventuates.

You can also expect the technology to move sideways and upwards into bigger derivatives, but not on smaller city cars, where MMC will instead use Nissan’s Leaf battery-EV expertise.

It’s also confirmed an electric Kei car for Japan, to succeed the pioneering i-MiEV. Of course, timings are vague and slippery as to precisely when this expansion happens.

“I think the long term answer is yes we will use this PHEV know how, upwards and sideways to a broader and broader range of cars,” said Mitsubishi Motor Company's (MMC) vice president of product strategy, Vincent Cobee. But first will likely come the gen-two Outlander PHEV.

“The all EV range today on Outlander PHEV has around 50km in pure EV mode before going to a hybrid drive system. We will extend this, the aim we have is 80-100 km, which covers 95 per cent of trips…

“We do this in next generation, but if we go beyond that the cost equation becomes [untenable],” he said.

This was expanded upon by MMC’s chief operating officer, Trevor Mann, who like Cobee came to the company from Nissan after the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance was formed.

“What is the contribution of Mitsubishi to the Alliance? First and foremost, a million units. Without those the alliance wouldn't be the number one auto group in the world,” he said.

“Secondly we have some expertise if you like, we have expertise in PHEV, so it looks like the Alliance will adopt the next-generation of PHEV…

“So when we look at the job shares for the Alliance going forward, it’s indicated that we would take the lead on framed (4x4) vehicles and PHEV development because that’s our know-how.”

Mitsubishi’s first business plan as part of the Alliance will see it launch six new and five upgraded vehicles over the period of November 2017-November 2020. It’s also pledged to sink 133 billion yen ($1.65b) into R&D this fiscal year (March 2018 to March 2019), up 50 per cent.

Of course, the big question is a Triton PHEV, where its two main areas of experience combine. We asked the MMC staffers these questions at the launch of the updated model, and Cobee answered.

“Today the pickup market is mostly driven by performance, durability, cost of ownership, and toughness, and the answer today is a frame base, and diesel. The PHEV tech today has not reached sufficient level of cost performance or durability demonstration to be an easy installation,” he said, with a caveat.

“But I think it’s fair to say that by 2025 electrification will have to happen and we can easily convince ourselves that there might be innovations to be done to bring a form of electrification that brings toughness, reliability and no range anxiety. I think it will migrate towards heavy and tougher vehicles.

“Just to be clear; towing, load, maintenance, PHEV can achieve it all, we just need to spend enough.”