Mitsubishi Motors announced that it will begin selling electric cars in Japan in 2010.
Mitsubishi will build its EVs with in-wheel motors and lithium-ion batteries, both of which the company has been working on for several years. Mitsubishi forsees using the Mitsubishi In-wheel motor Electric Vehicle (MIEV) concept in hybrids and fuel cell vehicles as well.
Mitsubishi Motors has already built several test vehicles using lithium-ion battery systems, including the Mitsubishi HEV in 1996, the FTO-EV in 1998 and the Eclipse EV in 2000. The FTO-EV set a multiple-charge 24-hour distance world record on a proving ground, while the Eclipse EV covered over 400 km on public roads on a single battery charge.
The company currently is using a modified Colt as its EV testbed. After removing the combustion engine, fuel tank and transmission, Mitsubishi fitted two 20 kW in-wheel motors with 600 Nm (443 lb-ft) torque each to the rear wheels.
A floor-mounted lithium-ion battery powers the motors. The car has a top speed of 150 km/h (93 mph) and a cruising range of 150 km (93 miles) on a single charge.
Mitsubishi currently has its test Colt EV on the proving ground.
The car will undergo a tuning program with independent control of drive torque and braking force for left and right wheels to improve dynamic performance. After receiving vehicle type certification, Colt EV will undergo verification testing on public roads.
Mitsubishi will use on-road testing to identify and resolve any problems unique to the in-wheel motor vehicle, including any deterioration in road holding and ride comfort due to increases in un-sprung weight, as well as reliability and durability issues in the in-wheel motor system and its peripheral components (suspension, wheels, tires).
The company is also currently developing a more powerful a 50 kW in-wheel motor for 4WD vehicle use that will eventually feature individual drive torque and braking force control for each wheel.
Mitsubishi will displaying the Colt EV at the 2005 Automotive Engineering Exposition to be held in Yokohama from May 18 through May 20.
This is a welcome development. For Mitsubishi, which has been dogged by quality problems, fault cover-ups and low sales, this offers a way to re-establish itself as a technology and market leader. (Opportunity is one thing, the ability to execute is another. We’ll have to see how things develop.)
But more broadly, a mainstream automaker is re-inserting the EV into the dialog of the market at a time when other automakers are crushing (or trying to crush) their older EVs.
It’s unfortunate that the release date is five years away, and that Mitsubishi currently has no plans to offer the EVs outside of Japan. But introduction dates can be advanced, and sales plans can expand, based on customer demand.
It will be interesting to see if any of the other automakers pick up the challenge.
(A tip of the hat to Joe!)