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Mitsubishi iMiEV charts future course

Mitsubishi and Suzuki have announced a deal to combine resources and produce an electric mini-van

By Gary Worrall | November 24, 2011

Hot on the heels of the Australian release of the Mitsubishi iMiEV electric car, Mitsubishi and Suzuki have announced a deal to combine resources and produce an electric mini-van.

The big question is will it work?

In short, yes, but like most advances in the transport sector, for it to work properly governments at all levels will have to rethink their approaches to a number of issues.

ATN recently spent a few days behind the wheel of an iMiEV courtesy of Mitsubishi Motors Australia, and perhaps surprisingly, it came up as a reasonable performer.

Like the first Toyota Prius before it, the iMiEV is a groundbreaker, the first mass-market, road registerable full electric motor vehicle in Australia.
While it resembles an airconditioned golf buggy with a roof, there is so much more to the iMiEV than meets the eye.

The iMiEV uses two separate electrical systems — a standard 12 volt system to run ancillary systems like radio, central locking, power windows and mirrors and headlights, and a heavy duty 330 volt AC system providing the drive.

It plugs into a powerpoint to recharge, drawing on household 240 volt electricity through a heavy duty 15 amp socket, the same as might be used to charge caravan or RV systems, or domestic airconditioners.

There is also a heavy duty three-phase rapid charger that can put 80 percent charge into the batteries in 30 minutes, compared to seven hours through a wall socket. Unfortunately there are not many of these rapid charge stations in Australia yet, so be prepared to plug it in at night.

Mitsubishi borrowed the auto-shifter from the Lancer, so people would feel comfortable selecting ‘R’ for Reverse or ‘D’ for Drive. There are also ‘B’ and ‘C’ options, but more on those later.

The accelerator pedal is actually a rheostat, but the principle remains the same: the harder you push the faster it goes. It is all about the feeling of not doing anything different.

The first thing you notice when driving is how quiet everything is. There is no detectable engine or transmission noise, although if you listen hard on a downhill run or under heavy braking you will hear a high-pitched whine — the only clue the system, in this case the generator, is working hard.

The default option is to use ‘D’, which sees the regenerative braking system set at a medium level, with decent acceleration. The ‘B’ provides extra braking effect on downhill, which in turn means more power generated to extend the range ‘on the fly’.

The final choice is a Comfort mode which is supposed to reduce brake effort, but in reality seems to recharge better when the car is coasting or even in light throttle applications.

While the electric steering is little vague, and the iMiEV is prone to understeer despite its rear wheel drive, it is essentially vice-free and certainly no worse than other competitors in its class.

The bottom line is Mitsubishi has normalised what could otherwise be deemed a science experiment, which would have marginalised users so that take-up would be restricted to government departments, universities, celebrities desperate for some good publicity and hard-core environmentalists.

As a result, provided governments play ball on regulation and look seriously at non-fossil fuel-powered electricity generation, the iMiEV and its successors do represent a genuine zero emission vehicle future.

Tomorrow, as Mitsubishi confirms the arrival of the MINICAB MiEV light commercial, Gary Worrall looks at what is needed to make plug-in electric attractive to transport operators.

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