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Plug ins are here

Mitsubishi have just delivered 40 i-MiEV’s, the first batch of all-electric cars in Australia, to some government agencies for assessment. Twenty have gone to Melbourne and twenty to Sydney.

Other States are expecting another 70 fairly soon. Is this the future direction of the autocar, or are they a waste of time and money?

Some examples have been made available to Australian journalists so let’s see what they think.  But first let’s clarify what we mean by electric cars, as they are really battery powered, and there are three major types.

1. Hybrid Cars

 You’ll be familiar with these as there are already many on Australian roads.
They are powered by small conventional petrol engines and have an electric motor as a support. The two work together to reduce emissions and increase economy. The batteries are re-charged from the kinetic energy produced by the vehicle, not by any plug-in device. You’ll know these as the Toyota Prius (or Camry),or the hybrid Honda and Lexus models, but there are several other brands around the World.

 2.  Plug-in Hybrids

Plug-in hybrids are just what their name implies, for whilst they still have small conventional engines they also have battery power alternatives that are re-charged by plugging them in to a mains power point. They will be here soon, the first one is likely to be  the  ‘Volt’. The battery can power the car for between 30 to 100kms on its own before re-charging or needing the petrol engine to take over.

The example shown here is the Chevrolet Volt which is planned for sale in Australia within the next two years.

3.  Full Electric Plug-Ins

The Mitsubishi i-MiEV does not have a petrol engine at all, it is totally dependent on its battery charged electric motor which uses plug ins to the mains electric for its energy source.

It’s in Australia- now!

Forty i-MiEVs have just arrived in Australia for testing and assessment, (by the way the odd name stands for ‘ Mitsubishi innovative Electric Vehicle’) and they are normal small modern looking cars with plenty of the usual options.

So how does it stack up for normal everyday motoring?

Here are the plus points we’ve gleaned from all the press reports:-

  • The battery pack is out of the way and doesn’t intrude on interior space at all.
  • It’s lots of fun to drive and is nippy off the mark, and has a good (limited) top speed of 130kph.
  • It has a one speed transmission- no gears, just forward or reverse.
  • Very quiet, possibly too quiet, as it needs extra vigilance to watch for pedestrians (they can’t hear you coming!).
  • A standard mains socket will re-charge it overnight (7 hrs.), but it can be charged to 80% capacity in about 90 mins.
  • Very cheap to run- a ‘fill up’ will only cost about $4.00.
  • Well equipped with air conditioning, power windows, locks and mirrors, ABS and traction control.

….and the minuses

  • COST! This is the big one. Whilst no official prices have been released, it is currently available for sale in Japan, and when comparing their retail pricing it looks like it will be positioned at between $60K and $70K in Australia
  • Nobody is sure when the public will be able to buy one, for whilst it is expected in 2011 it rather depends on how quickly other markets gobble up production.
  • Limited range of between 100 and 160 kms. before it needs a re-charge.

We reckon the biggest set back is the price, as few will be prepared to be ‘green’ for a 200% premium. But then agin, in 2003 a 50 inch plasma TV cost well over $20,000, and now they are less that a grand, so prices may well plummet, especially if the Government gives some assistance, as in other countries.

Many may also worry about the relatively limited range, but for most that won’t be a problem, as research indicates that nearly 90% of urban journeys in Australia are well under 100kms.

Sydney and Melbourne residents can now see the i-MiEV scooting around in the hands of council officials, but it will be some time-if ever, before the public can get their hands on them, at any price.

However, as the VP of Mitsubishi Australia rightly says “The i-MiEV is not the end of the story, it’s just the start of it”

So this innovative little car may just represent the future of city and suburban commuting….