Move over smart car, the Mitsubishi i MiEV has arrived

Expert Reviews Mitsubishi

By Derek Mau

Amidst the hustle and bustle of the city’s buzzing hive of urban workers, a quiet ceremony was taking place in front of Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) San Francisco offices. A handful of reporters, the occasional curiosity seeker walking by, and a few employees on break were around to witness the delivery of Mitsubishi Motors (MMC) all-electric vehicle, the i MiEV (Mitsubishi Innovative Electric Vehicle), to PG&E for some extensive testing over the next few years.

The i MiEV is an all-electric powered vehicle based on the Mitsubishi i sold in Japan.The original i is a sub-compact car that has the size and dimensions of a “light car” (classified in Japan as “keijidousha” class) with an engine displacement of up to 660cc. The car looks tiny on the outside but is fairly spacious on the inside. Looking somewhat like a jellybean on wheels, it’s a tad over 133 inches from end to end. With the car’s 15-inch wheels pushed all the way out to the corners, the overhangs are zero. As a result, it has a 100-inch wheelbase and a very stable ride. For the sake of comparison, the 5-door VW Rabbit’s wheelbase is 101.5 inches. This translates into a surprising amount of interior passenger room — much more than you’d expect from such a small car.

(Video and photos if the Mitsubishi i MiEV below the jump)

Our experience with the i MiEV on the streets of San Francisco was short, but sweet. The car was everything an electric car should be: quiet, fun and very easy to use even though it was a Japanese model with the steering wheel on the right (wrong) side of the car. Did we mention how quiet it is? So quiet. Even the city noise had a hard time invading our “cone of silence” inside the i MiEV. Ride comfort is surprisingly good, thanks to the i MiEV’s compact-car-sized wheelbase.

Advancements in Li-ion battery technology give the i MiEV a range of 80 – 100 miles before the battery becomes fully depleted. Recharging from a 220 Volt source takes 6 hours or 12 hours from a 110 Volt outlet. On the opposite side of the car, where the old fuel-filler door use to be placed, is the port for the quick-charger. Plug the i MiEV into the quick-charger that’s being developed with the help of the Japanese power companies and an 80% charge can be achieved in just 30 minutes. Quick-charge stations like this need to be part of the future EV-ready infrastructure, as they allow people to recharge rapidly when on the road away from home.

The 330-volt Li-Ion battery pack is situated under the floor, and the charger, inverter, and 47 kW electric motor all reside in the space under the rear cargo area and ahead of the rear wheels. In the standard i, that’s where you’d find a 660cc 3-cylinder gasoline engine. What’s good about this is that Mitsubishi doesn’t need to change much about the i to accommodate the electric drivetrain. Taking advantage of its relatively long wheelbase, a lithium ion battery is installed at the lowest area under the floor, which will grant the vehicle maximum stability, agile handling, and a more spacious interior. The i MiEV actually has a lower center of gravity than the original i with a clearance 77 mm lower than its gas-powered cousin.

Unfortunately, there are no immediate plans to sell either the i or i MiEV on U.S. shores at this time. Mitsubishi is gauging consumer reaction to the cars this week at the San Francisco Auto Show and evaluating what kind of demand, if any, there is for it.

It’s All About the Battery

More than anything else, Mitsubishi’s plans are based on the latest advancements in battery technology. Having developed its own large-capacity high-performance lithium-ion battery—in a joint venture with GS Yuasa Corporation — Mitsubishi is confident that the technology is ready for primetime. The battery cells from the joint venture are based on the LIM series of large-format lithium ion batteries manufactured by GS Yuasa. The partners have enhanced the cell structure and electrode materials to deliver improved energy and power densities. The result is an electric car with the power and range suitable for daily driving.

Collaborating with power companies is nothing new for Mitsubishi Motors and they fully understand that cross-industry collaboration is required to make large steps forward in this large endeavor to move away from our dependency on oil. Mitsubishi Motors has already formed joint research teams with seven major utility companies in Japan in addition to establishing a joint-venture company, “Lithium Energy Japan” with GS Yuasa to develop and manufacture large high capacity, high performance lithium-ion batteries.

PG&E’s Clean Air Transportation group wants to study the vehicle and battery performance, as well as vehicle connection and integration into the U.S. electrical grid over the next three years. The knowledge and data from the test program is helping Mitsubishi Motors gauge how electric vehicles will connect and integrate into the U.S. electrical system.

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