Concept-Mitsubishi i MiEV Preview

  • Battery-powered minicar goes on sale in Japan in 2009

  • Currently being tested by Japanese power companies

  • U.S. testing begins in fall 2008

  • Sale in the U.S. is a serious possibility

  • Based on gas-engine "i" model, sold in Japan

  • "One-motion" egg-shaped form suggests single calligraphy stroke


At the New York International Auto Show in March 2008, Mitsubishi doubtless surprised a number of observers by presenting a pair of small electric cars. Being readied for sale in Japan, the egg-shaped 4-door hatchback i MiEV is undergoing testing by six utility companies in that country. A public road-testing program is currently underway. More surprising yet, Mitsubishi strongly hints that a battery-powered i MiEV might also be a candidate for sale in the U.S. market. In fact, actual testing in America-including trials by fleets-will begin in fall of 2008.

Minicars have generally not fared well at American dealerships, whether powered by gasoline or electricity. As fuel prices continue to rise, however, the prospects for a commuter car that can be charged overnight at home-or quick-charged at some other location-just might escalate appreciably. All the more so, because Mitsubishi isn't the only Japanese automaker to talk about mini-sized electric vehicles at the New York show. Subaru exhibited one, and announced that a pair of them would undergo testing by the New York Power Authority. Nissan also spoke about a forthcoming electric car, intended for sale in Japan by 2010 and in the U.S. about two years later. Mitsubishi produced its first electric vehicle, the Minicab EV, back in 1971. The i MiEV hatchback was developed in 2006.

Exterior DesignIn appearance, the i MiEV looks almost exactly like Mitsubishi's gasoline-engine "i" model, which is available in Japan and also appeared at the New York Auto Show. Considered a "kei-minicar," the Mitsubishi "i" contains a 3-cylinder turbocharged MIVEC gasoline engine.

Like the original "i" model, the i MiEV is built on a relatively long wheelbase and uses a rear-midship powertrain layout. Lithium-ion batteries are mounted under the floor. The electric motor, inverter, charger, and other EV components are beneath the luggage compartment. Placing heavy components low in the frame helps achieve a low center of gravity.Wheels are positioned far out at each corner, and the beltline slopes forward. Mitsubishi notes that the design is like a "one-motion form," resembling a single calligraphy brush stroke, led by a stubby front end.

Mitsubishi's "i" model, upon which the i MiEV is based, measures 133.7 inches long overall on a 100.4-inch wheelbase. Riding on 15-inch tires, it's 58 inches wide and stands 63 inches high. Measurement details have not yet been supplied for the i MiEV.

Interior Design

The i MiEV concept's long wheelbase and rear-midship layout also increase passenger capacity. Four occupants fit inside what Mitsubishi calls a "cocoon-like" interior, which wraps gently around the passengers. "Heavily bowed" glass and a large windshield help create a sensation of airiness inside. Occupying what Mitsubishi calls a "deeply rounded" seat, the driver faces a "low-line" dashboard.


Environmental issues are a key to the i MiEV's prospects. Running on a lithium-ion battery, the minicar promises zero on-road carbon-dioxide emissions, as well as minimal noise. Mitsubishi chose lithium-ion because of its high energy density. Fleet vehicles, developed jointly with Japanese power companies, have achieved a cruising range of 160 kilometers (99 miles), using the Japanese "10-15 mode" driving pattern. Batteries can be charged on regular AC household current, in about 14 hours. Where 200-volt AC is available in Japan, the charging time can be cut in half. Quick-charging to 80 percent of capacity takes about 30 minutes.


Mitsubishi promotes the basic "i" model's "all-around" crashworthiness, helped by a sizable front crumple zone that's made possible by eliminating a front-mounted engine.


Mitsubishi also considers the i MiEV in terms of "well-to-wheel" performance, which evaluates the efficiency of the entire motive process: from fuel production and supply, through distribution, all the way to operating the vehicle itself. Judged by that standard, according to Mitsubishi, the i MiEV emits about 30 percent of the carbon-dioxide generated by a gasoline-engine car of comparable size.

Actual driving cost for a 100-kilometer journey is said be one-third that of a comparable minicar with a 660-cc gasoline engine. In Japan, if the battery is charged at night, the cost drops to about one-ninth. While driving downhill, decelerating or braking, the i MiEV's energy regeneration system turns the electric motor into a generator, to help keep the battery charged-much like the system in most hybrid-powertrain vehicles.