The four-door iMiEV can run for 80 miles on a full charge. Mitsubishi plans to begin selling the car in Japan to fleet customers in mid-2009 and to the general public in 2010, the company's managing director for product development, Tetsuro Aikawa, said. The car will cost between $25,000 and $30,000 in Japan, or up to $7,000 more than its high-mileage, gas-powered counterpart, the i minicar.
Aikawa said Mitsubishi will consider bringing the car to the U.S. or Europe after 2010 if there is enough demand for a small electric car. The iMiEV is smaller than a subcompact, about the size of a four-door Smart car.
"I hope such a market will exist," Aikawa said.
The iMiEV takes 14 hours to charge completely on a 110-volt home outlet, or seven hours to charge on a 220-volt outlet. Japan is developing quick-charge stations that will allow the car to be charged in 30 minutes, Aikawa said.
Mitsubishi has been developing the iMiEV since 2005. To build it, the company put a five-by-three-foot lithium-ion battery under the front and rear seats of the gas-powered i minicar, which is already on sale in Japan. The car makes no sound, even when it starts, but otherwise drives normally. It has no tailpipe emissions.
Some automakers have expressed concern about the safety of lithium-ion batteries, which have overheated in cell phones and laptops. But Aikawa said Mitsubishi is confident in its battery, which is made by GS Yuasa Corp., the biggest battery maker in Japan. He said GS Yuasa is already providing lithium-ion batteries for Boeing 787 jets, among other customers.
The number of iMiEVs produced in Japan will be limited at first to the number of batteries the company can produce. Aikawa said Mitsubishi plans to build 2,000 iMiEVs in 2009 and 5,000 the next year.
The iMiEV puts Mitsubishi squarely in the race to develop a mass-market electric car. General Motors Corp. and Toyota Motor Corp. are among the other companies developing cars powered by lithium-ion batteries. GM has said it wants to have its electric Chevrolet Volt on U.S. roads by 2010.