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Japanese makers add spark to electric buzz

City cars: Electric versions of the Subaru Stella (left) and Mitsubishi "i" are coming Down Under.

Mitsubishi, Subaru to show off electric cars in Australia

29 Jan 2009

MITSUBISHI will demonstrate a pre-production version of its new i-MiEV electric vehicle (EV) - due to go into volume production in Japan later this year – in an extensive tour around most of Australia starting early March.

Announced tonight as Australia's first EV feasibility study, the news comes a day after Subaru revealed its Stella EV prototype will be available for press drives ahead of a local debut at the Melbourne motor show on February 27.

The iMiEV is being brought to Australia following constant agitation and enthusiasm from local chief Rob McEniry, who believes there will be a growing demand for mini-cars as petrol prices rise again.

Mitsubishi Japan has added Australia to a list of countries conducting feasibility studies on the all-electric five-door "i" micro.

If approved for sale here, Mitsubishi's plug-in i-car could beat an as-yet-unnamed EV from Nissan, which has promised to make it available here by 2012, in the race to become Australia's first fully-electric vehicle.

GM Holden has committed to a 2012 release for its second-generation plug-in hybrid (or "extended-range EV"), the Volt, while Toyota is testing a plug-in version of its pioneering Prius hybrid, which arrives here in redesigned MkIII guise in July.

Two i-MiEVs will start a tour of the eastern states immediately after the Melbourne show, where one will be displayed alongside Subaru's Stella, for demonstrations to gauge how well the four-seater city runabout would be received here.

The demonstration cars will be shown to governments, fleet managers, environmental opinion leaders and the media. Similar feasibility studies have been conducted or are under way in Japan, the USA, Europe and New Zealand.

21 center imageLeft, from top: Mitsubishi i-MiEV, Subaru Stella EV, i-MiEV Sport concept, Subaru R1e and i-MiEV's charging port. Mitsubishi says the i-MiEV will this year become "the world’s first truly viable, fully featured, zero drive-time emission, city commuter vehicle to go into volume production and be available for sale in Japan".

Announcing the feasibility study, Mr McEniry said Mitsubishi wanted to answer the question: "Is the nation ready to leverage the environmental benefits of this technology?" Based on the petrol-powered rear-drive i first revealed at the 2003 Frankfurt motor show, the i-MiEV instead features a 47kW electric motor powered by a 330-volt lithium-ion battery.

Range is quoted at around 160km from a fully charged battery, although this depends on how much of its performance is used. The iMiEV takes up to eight hours to recharge from a household power outlet (20 minutes in a dedicated higher voltage outlet) and can reach speeds of around 130km/h.

Mr McEniry said governments needed to consider whether there was enough renewable energy available to power a growing fleet of electric cars. He said he expected to see an "avalanche" of plug-in cars from various car makers in the next five years.

"Does Australia have the infrastructure to enable the full utilization of electric cars?" he asked.

"Are the incentives in place to encourage the early adoption of this cutting edge technology?" He said car-makers were delivering on the "dream" of electric vehicles and that it was happening sooner than many had expected.

BMW's Mini E and Daimler's Smart ForTwo EV are also on the card for Australia, but will likely cost more than the i-MiEV's estimated $30,000 price tag.

"Given the current climate of concern regarding our environment, along with unstable petrol prices, alternative-fuel vehicles – and more specifically electric vehicles – are a very hot topic at present," he said.

The hands-on feasibility study will be conducted through the eastern states – South Australia, Victoria, the Australian Capital Territory, New South Wales and Queensland.

Like the i-MiEV, the plug-in Stella started life as a kei-car – a mini-car even smaller than light-cars like Mitsubishi's Colt, which is fitted with a 660cc petrol engine built specifically to meet Japan’s engine/size tax regime.

Again like the iMiEV, the 3.4-metre-long Stella has had its internal combustion engine replaced by an electric motor and a battery, in this case a 40kW motor and a 346-volt battery.

It can reach speeds of 100km/h, has a range of around 80km and is claimed to reach 80 per cent of battery capacity in a 15-minute quick-charge.

Read more:

Mitsubishi electricar closer

Still watching the ‘i’

Mitsu keeps eye on i

Mitsubishi moving on

Mitsubishi to extend Ralliart reach

Electric i-car hope

Mitsu i-car still on horizon


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