Mitsubishi Motors celebrates a decade of pioneering mass-production electric vehicles

Although Nissan’s LEAF can lay claim to being the bestselling electric vehicle (EV) in the world, the i-MiEV by Mitsubishi Motors Corporation (MMC) was the car which led the way for the automotive industry’s shift towards mass-produced EVs. Launched into the domestic market one year before the LEAF, over 31,000 units of the zero-emission city car (and its commercial variant) have been sold worldwide after 10 years.

The i-MiEV impressed with its eco performance, quietness, driving performance and environmental economy. Governments in some countries, as well as in taxi and rent-a-car fleets, etc. found it to be appropriate transport with its positive environmental credentials. In addition, the i-MiEV has proven an important vehicle at times of disaster when fuel shortages hamper the use of cars with internal combustion engines.

The i-MiEV’s 16 kW battery pack and compact, rear-mounted electric motor gives the car a range of up to 160 kms with very good performance. Its compact dimensions are ideal for cities. Though city cars, especially EVs, often have 2 seats, the i-MiEV’s clever packaging provided interior space for 4 people.

Sold in Malaysia too
In 2012, the Malaysia government exempted EVs and hybrids from all duties as a demonstration of its commitment to reducing the country’s carbon emissions. This encouraged a number of companies to offer hybrid models which were priced attractively, and Mitsubishi Motors Malaysia introduced the i-MiEV. Due to the high cost of the advanced technology, the model was not cheap and even duty-free, it cost around RM136,000.

The sale of EVs was lower than that of hybrids during that period, partly because the recharging infrastructure was non-existent and owners had to recharge the vehicles at home. Nevertheless, it was an opportunity to create more awareness and understanding of EVs which will eventually become mainstream vehicles in coming decades.

Mitsubishi Motors Malaysia sold the i-MiEV for a few years during the period when the government allowed EVs and hybrids to be sold duty-free. It was priced at around RM136,000 with annual roadtax set at just RM10 by the JPJ.

Stronger focus on EV technology
Crucially, the i-MiEV also accelerated MMC’s research and development into EV powertrains, a move which was partly to ‘leapfrog’ Toyota and Honda which already had a strong lead in hybrid technology. Chairman & CEO of MMC, Osamu Masuko, told Motor Trader (at an interview in 2013), that since those two companies were well ahead, Mitsubishi Motors would instead go further up ‘the hill’ and use its resources to develop EV technology earlier. “This technology can also be useful in hybrids,” he added.