Mitsubishi EV has a leg up on the competition.
Unless you follow the electric vehicle market closely, you may not have known that Mitsubishi sells such a model. That model, the i-MiEV, has been on the market longer than the better known Nissan LEAF, but it is only sold in Japan and in Europe, whereas the LEAF is sold in the United States and in Europe in addition to Japan. Introduced in summer 2009 nearly 18 months before the LEAF, the Mitsubishi EV recently eclipsed 10,000 units sold, about 1,500 more units than the LEAF and its Renault sibling.
Mitsubishi plans to eventually sell its electric vehicle in the U.S., and has forecast global sales of 25,000 units for the coming year, including sales derived from its French partner, Peugeot-Citroen. Notably, the Mitsubishi EV has dropped in price as the Japanese automaker has developed an entry level "M" version which is priced at about $32,000, comparable to the Nissan LEAF. Moreover, the automaker has developed a second, extended range model allowing it to go 110 miles between charges. Mitsubishi has not said whether both models will be available in the United States when it goes on sale in 2012.
EV bragging rights are at stake as Mitsubishi and Nissan attempt to beat out Japanese and global competitors by dominating the market. The Chevrolet Volt is not considered a direct competitor as this vehicle uses a supplemental gas engine once its 35-mile pure electric range has been expended. Still, the Volt's appeal is that it can be driven for long distances and quickly refueled with gasoline to extend its range. Once at rest, the Volt can be recharged, allowing it to run on electric power once again.
With a $7,500 federal tax credit, a Mitsubishi i-MiEV sold in the United States would cost about $24,500 after the credit has been taken. Some states, including California, offer a $5,000 rebate, which means that Golden State owners would pay about $19,500 for their vehicles, which is about $4,000 less than a hybrid Toyota Prius.
One feature not found in EVs, but being explored is to make it possible for these models to contribute electricity to homes, wherever plugged in. This feature is important as it would allow the car to provide much needed electricity in the event of a power outage. Japan's devastating 9.1 quake in March 2011 demonstrated that such a feature would be helpful as much of northeast Japan was without power for days, even weeks following the disaster.
Other manufacturers with an EV presence include Ford which sells a Transit Connect van to fleets and the upcoming battery electric Ford Focus. Expect most manufacturers to offer at least one model within the next few years, providing these companies with a vehicle to help meet even more stringent federal fuel economy requirements.
Matthew C. Keegan is editor and publisher of "Auto Trends Magazine." Matt is also a contributing writer for Andy's Auto Sport and affiliated websites, an aftermarket supplier of quality auto parts including Pontiac Firebird intakes and suspension parts.