Mitsubishi Pins EV Hopes on Outlander Plug-in Hybrid
Mitsubishi’s U.K. division believes the upcoming Outlander plug-in hybrid SUV will be the company’s most important car sold in decades, according to U.K.’s Car Dealer magazine. In an article posted today, the magazine quoted Toby Marshall, Mitsubishi sales and marketing director, saying, “We can sell as many as we want.” This is not the first time Mitsubishi has pinned big hopes on plug-in cars—which have not yet materialized.
In the period leading up to the introduction of the Nissan LEAF and Chevy Volt, circa 2010, the small Mitsubishi i-MiEV—its name has since been reduced to lowercase “i”—was considered one of the frontrunners in the EV market. And in January 2011, Mitsubishi garnered headlines for announcing bold environmental initiatives for 2015 and 2020, using EVs to rebrand its entire line of automobiles. The goal at the time was to launch six new electrified models by 2015—including two new plug-in hybrids in 2012, a new EV in 2013, and yet another new EV in 2014.
We’re almost done with 2012, and there’s little evidence that Mitsubishi will hit any of these goals. Through November 2012, the company has sold only 511 units of the Mitsubishi i in the United States (adding to 80 sales from 2011).
Back to Drawing Board: Shift from EV to PHEV
In the report by Car Dealer magazine, Mitsubishi’s Marshall hinted that the Outlander plug-in hybrid would be priced “under £40,000” after incentives in the U.K.—which translates to about US $65,000. (It’s hard to predict how the Outlander will be priced in the U.S. based on European pricing.)
The U.S. sticker price for the Mitsubishi i, right around $30,000, is one of its biggest drawbacks—considering that the small EV costs nearly the same as a Nissan LEAF, a car that is bigger, more powerful, has more range, and feels much more substantial a vehicle than the wispy i.
In October, Australia’s Car Advice website reported that Osamu Masuko, Mitsubishi’s president, admitted that its EV plans were not working out. “The customer is recognizing that the price point is important and the infrastructure and the cruising range as well,” Masuko said. “To solve this issue, our resolution was plug-in hybrids, which accommodate the issue of cruising range, which now achieves 500 miles.” Masuko, speaking at the Sydney auto show, also blamed low EV sales on the poor state of the European car market, and the high Japanese Yen.
Subcompact bubble-like electric cars with 60 miles of range (such as the i) are unlikely to appeal to red-blooded American car buyers anytime soon. However, the market currently lacks a four-wheel-drive seven-seat SUV with a plug-in hybrid drivetrain (offering 500+ miles of total range). I’m guessing that many EV drivers would like to have a larger PHEV garage-mate, like the Outlander, which offers about 30 miles of all-electric range via two electric motors (one in back and one in front) and a 12 kilowatt-hour battery pack, with a 2-liter gas engine available for long-distance travel. The model might also bring new types of U.S. car owners to the plug-in market—those American drivers who prefer riding high in a SUV.
The PHEV version of the Outlander has its world premiere at this year’s Paris motor show. Mitsubishi also unveiled the redesigned 2014 Outlander at the L.A. auto show this month. It is more rounded and aerodynamic, lighter, and less aggressive in appearance than its predecessor. The new Outlander, in its purely gas-powered variant, will be offered with either a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine or a 3.0L V-6 drivetrain. There’s a long list of safety and entertainment features. Pricing for the gas versions will likely be in the mid-$20,000s, with sales expected in mid-2013.
There’s no definitive word yet on pricing for the plug-in version. In June, Mitsubishi said the Outlander Plug-in Hybrid will be released in late 2013 or early 2014.
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