Mitsubishi Will Make Electric Cars the Focus of a Major Strategic Shift

By · January 21, 2011

The Mitsubishi PX-MiEV concept as introduced in 2009. An offshoot of this vehicle, likely a plug-in hybrid Outlander, looks like it's in the cards.

There's no question that Mitsubishi has been struggling as of late—especially in the U.S., where sales have slid badly and the company's Normal, Illinois, factory has been sitting idle a large part of the time. As one of the few automakers to have joined the push for electric vehicles early on, watching the slide has been a bit disheartening. But as part of gigantic strategic realignment to try and reverse the trend, Mitsubishi has announced that electric cars will be the centerpiece of its bid to grow sales globally.

Under the new plan, Mitsubishi will launch six new electric or plug-in hybrid vehicles by 2015, as well as an as-yet-unannounced number of conventional hybrids. Although the plan sounds almost unattainably aggressive on the surface, it's not as big of a shift as it seems. Mitsubishi already has the i-MiEV—the cute love-it-or-hate styled mini electric hatchback it is now launching around the globe—and a couple of years back the company announced plans to produce an offshoot of the PX-MiEV, a plug-in hybrid SUV. In communications with, a Mitsubishi official confirmed that two of the six new EVs or PHEVs will include both the i-MiEV and a PX-MiEV offshoot.

The Mitsubishi PX-MiEV concept dashboard and instrument cluster.

In addition to the i-MiEV and PX-MiEV offshoot (my money is on a PHEV Outlander), the official also indicated that some of the vehicles will be based on the i-MiEV and PX-MiEV drivetrains. Taking that a step further, we've already seen the i-MiEV CARGO, a commercial small van version of the i-MiEV, crop up in testing in Japan, so that is a likely target. Also, the PHEV drivetrain for the PX-MiEV could clearly be transferred to vehicles in Mitsubishi's lineup in between the classes of microcar and Mid-size SUV—such as mid- and full-size sedans.

Those six new vehicles won't all land in the United States, with some of them only available in select global markets, and some of them perhaps targeted towards fleet applications. Mitsubishi also plans on releasing new conventional hybrids alongside its forthcoming EVs and PHEVs. Mitsubishi's strategic shift includes thinning the company's global offerings, a la GM and Ford, so that it has only a few global platforms that it can use to make its manufacturing process leaner and more flexible. To accomplish all of these agressive goals, Mitsubishi will increase its global research and development budget by 30%.

Simultaneously with the announcement of the new EV and PHEV focus, Mitsubishi announced a new environmental initiative for 2015. Under this initiative, Mitsubishi says "electric-powered vehicles [will] account for at least 5% of total production volume" by 2015, "thus helping the target of 25% reduction in CO2 emissions, and a reduction of 15% in CO2 emissions."

As I said in yesterday's post about Tesla's announcement, talk is cheap. But the Mitsubishi official said the shift really is a monumental one for the company—and it's real. Our take: although the completely new strategic alignment is aggressive and monumental, it's not earth-shatteringly different than what Mitsubishi has been aiming for for some time now. When factoring in slumping sales and increasingly-stringent global fuel economy regulations, this shift is something that clearly makes sense for company that has been doing electric car research for decades.

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