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Battery meltdown plagues plug-in Outlander

Hot stuff: Japanese demand for the plug-in Outlander has already upset Mitsubishi’s launch program in Australia, and the latest battery overheating problem could plague it even more.

Mitsubishi says problems unlikely to further delay plug-in SUV roll-out

11 Apr 2013

MITSUBISHI says it doesn’t expect any further delays to the roll-out of its first plug-in hybrid vehicle in Australia as engineers scramble to find the source of battery overheating problems.

The car-maker suspended production of the petrol-electric Outlander soft-roader two weeks ago after one of them melted its battery while in storage at a Japanese dealership.

According to Mitsubishi, the dealership could not start the Outlander plug-in hybrid electric vehicle the day after it had been fully charged, and noticed a “strange odour” coming from underneath it.

A closer inspection revealed that one of the 80 lithium-ion battery cells had overheated and started melting adjoining cells.

Mitsubishi Australia manager of corporate communications Caitlin Beale said the launch of the petrol-electric Outlander had already been pushed back from its initial launch date of May to late this year after demand in the car’s home market outstripped expectations.

She said it was still too early to say if the plug-in soft-roader’s latest setback would have any further impact on its Australian arrival.

“It’s a little too early to say anything about that yet,” Ms Beale said. “In terms of this battery issue, they commenced the (production line) shutdown just before Easter and they gave a two-week timeframe (to solve the battery problem).” However, she said the factory held another briefing yesterday to say that while it had found the cause, it had not yet found out why the battery had melted.

“Obviously it is of the utmost priority that they want to get it sorted before re-commencing production,” Ms Beale said.

She said she was “uncertain” if the battery problem would push the launch of the diesel-electric Outlander out as far as next year.

“I doubt it, as I expect the problem will be resolved fairly quickly. I don’t see it being an issue,” Ms Beale said. “However, if it does linger, then possibly it will.” General Motors’s petrol-electric Volt hybrid hatchback was wracked in controversy in 2011 after one unexpectedly caught fire weeks after it was crash-tested in the US.

The problem was linked back to a punctured battery pack and leaking coolant.

A US-based National Highway Traffic Safety Administration investigation into the fire found there was no increased risk of fire in hybrid cars compared with petrol-powered models.

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