An EV Grows in Brooklyn
Mitsubishi readies its i-MiEV for America
Like many electric cars, the Mitsubishi i-MiEV seems a city car in search of a charging infrastructure. I just handed back a right-hand-drive, Japanese-market version of the i-MiEV -- a button-cute, blue and white Easter egg of a car -- after driving it around New York all week. Coincidentally, this week Mitsubishi released a rendering, shown here, of a widened, slightly longer-range i-MiEV that it hopes to begin selling in the U.S. beginning next fall for around $30,000.
Mitsubishi will unveil that iMiEV at the Los Angeles auto show this month. The rendering reveals a more sculpted and aggressive face leading a wider body. A Mitsubishi spokesman said the company is targeting a 100-mile driving range for the U.S. version, which is farther than for the model I drove; my Asian-market car, with its 63-horsepower electric motor, was on pace for about 60 to 70 miles. Of course, as with any any EV, cold weather, a lead foot or extensive use of heating and air conditioning will chop into that already paltry range.
Despite its unpronounceable name -- I’m now pretty sure it’s “eye-MEEV" -- the Mitsubishi proved a useful partner for short-hop driving, with plenty of acceleration and reasonable econocar handling. And, it must be said again: If you’re charging an EV nightly and using the car strictly for commuting or around-town errands, even 70 or 80 miles will take you a lot farther than you’d expect.
The i-MiEV’s most interesting feature might be the additional 480-volt, DC quick-charging plug on its passenger side, which is included in addition to the standard U.S. plug that handles either household or faster 240-volt current. Those quick chargers can juice up an EV like the Mitsu to 80 percent capacity in roughly 20 minutes, bringing time-sensitive public charging much closer to reality. While companies such as Coulomb are developing quick chargers, according to Mitsubishi, there’s only one in the U.S. right now, in Vacaville, Calif.
The i-MiEV again brought up the weird disconnect of EVs: The same big-city folks who are really into these cars are the people least likely to have a garage or other place to charge them. Pete, a Brooklyn firefighter from the local Red Hook station, seemed to know more about EVs than I did when he spotted the car in my neighborhood and I took him for an impromptu spin. (Who's gonna say no to a New York firefighter?) Pete said he couldn’t wait for the day when EVs captured, say, 10 percent of the market -- putting serious heat on oil producers, cutting into gasoline prices and sticking it to the Saudis and OPEC. Whatever you think about the viability of electric cars, it’s hard to argue against any of those sentiments.
Later, I stepped outside to find a business card on the Mitsu’s window from Beautiful Earth, a renewable-energy company in my neighborhood that installed a charging station last year for the field-testing program for the MINI E electric. Yes, there's a charging station in my 'hood -- right on the waterfront of New York Harbor. But while I really wanted to drive the Mitsubishi over to charge it up and talk some shop, I didn’t have even two or three hours to spend that day. Once again, it hit me that unless you’re charging at home, work or some shopping mall where you’re guaranteed to blow a few hours, charging will remain something you have to plan for, or around. And for green-minded city denizens like Pete, who’d really love an EV or a plug-in hybrid like the Chevy Volt, it’s going to take curbside or parking-garage charging to make their no-gasoline dream a reality.
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