Getting Small, Going Green
At the 2008 New York International Auto Show, Mitsubishi revealed it is looking to the U.S. market as a possible fit for the company’s tiny 4-passenger car, the i. And if there’s a place for the diminutive car on U.S. roads, then perhaps there might also be a market for an electric version.
Already sold in Japan where it has gained considerable popularity, the i-car is about 10 inches shorter than a MINI Cooper but makes excellent use of available space. Four adult passengers fit easily in the i-car, while still allowing for a bit of cargo — although only a grocery bag or two. Headroom is quite plentiful due to the i-car’s shape.
The shape is even possible in this small of a package because the engine sits below the floor and just forward of the rear axle. This allowed designers to give the rear-wheel-drive i-car a larger passenger compartment while putting the wheels at the corners.
The other advantage to this rear-mid engine layout: converting to an electric version of the i-car does not require any major structural changes. So Mitsubishi replaced the gasoline-powered engine with an electric motor powered by lithium-ion batteries stored under the floor. This new version of the i-car is called the i-MIEV (Mitsubishi Innovative Electric Vehicle).
An even more interesting advantage when converting the i-car into the i-MIEV: With the batteries in the floor, the center of gravity is lowered so much the electric version actually handles better than its gas-powered sibling.
Mitsubishi plans to put the i-MIEV on sale in Japan late next year, but to get an early indication of the viability of this car in America, the company brought a few cars to the New York show. MSN Autos' editors got the chance to take this little car for a spin around Manhattan and found the car would probably feel right at home zipping and lunging between the taxicabs of the Big Apple.
On the Road
The i-MIEV is unnervingly quiet, even for an electric car. However, it operates just like any other car: Turn the key, shift into Drive, and away it goes.
Because electric cars provide peak torque almost immediately, the i-MIEV is quick. During our test drive we had no problem keeping up with New York traffic, since the i-MIEV can accelerate from a standstill faster than most larger cars.
The i does feel quite small going wheel-to-wheel with mammoth delivery trucks, SUVs and taxis, but being small has definite advantages in the city. During our drive we rolled up to a taxi that had broken down in the middle of the street. A larger car would have had to turn around, but at less than five feet wide the i-MIEV easily maneuvered around the disabled cab.
Mitsubishi claims the range of the current lithium-ion batteries to be around 80 miles. Charge time varies depending on the power source. To fully charge the i-MIEV with a standard 110 outlet takes about 14 hours. Hooking up to a 220 volt power source — common in most houses for plugging in the clothes dryer — cuts the time to seven hours. Quick chargers are currently being developed that could cut the time to 30 minutes.
Mitsubishi will be leaving a few of these electric i-MIEVs in the U.S. for fleet testing with a utility company, and will continue to assess the market for small cars as well as electric cars.