Japanese drivers will soon have another choice when it comes to which car they’ll drive, beyond just the usual annual change of colors and styles.
Mitsubishi Motors Corporation is producing what they’re dubbing the “ultimate eco-car,” a zero-emission electric vehicle called the i-MiEV. Sales to individuals will commence in April, 2010, although the company plans on making a limited number of vehicles available to corporate and government customers in late July of 2009.
MiEV stands for Mitsubishi innovative Electric Vehicle. The car is powered by a battery consisting of 88 high energy-density lithium-ion cells connected in series and installed under the floor in the center of the vehicle, giving the car a low center of gravity and contributing to better handling and stability. DC power from the battery goes through an inverter to deliver AC to the permanent magnet synchronous electric motor positioned in the rear of the car, under the luggage compartment.
An onboard computer runs Mitsubishi’s Integrated vehicle management system, MiEV OS, that gathers data from all the major EV components, monitors battery status and energy recovered from the regenerative braking system, and regulates output for optimum performance and economy. It then provides a visual display of power consumption, remaining battery power, and estimated range based on the average power consumption over the last few kilometers.
The only thing the driver has to decide is whether to choose economy mode, designed for maximum range, or performance mode that delivers greater torque and acceleration.
Of course, the car includes heating and air conditioning — both electric — and the usual 12 volt auxiliary system.
According to the manufacturer, depending on environmental conditions and driving habits, the i-MiEV has an estimated cruising range of 160 km, just under 100 miles.
Charging the car is a simple matter: just plug it in at home using the supplied cables with standard connectors. Japanese homes typically have 100 volt AC lines. With that power, the battery will take about 14 hours to reach a full charge. At 200 VAC, a full charge is achieved in about 7 hours. Quick Charge stations are being built throughout Japan that will deliver 200 volt 3-phase power and that will charge the i-MiEV’s battery to 80% capacity in about a half-hour.
This last point raises an issue for consideration.
Japan has a population of about 127 million people in a land area of about 377,000 km2. By way of comparison, the United States has less than three times the population — about 307 million people — but spread across an area almost 26 times as large. Building an infrastructure to support electric vehicles in Japan is no small task, but it’s monumental in an environment the size of the United States.
Electric vehicles produce zero emissions, and they can be charged using electricity generated from renewable sources like wind, solar, geothermal, and hydro. But the environmental advantage notwithstanding, it may not be enough to drive global adoption in the near future. For that we’ll need large corporations making significant profits, likely coupled with generous government subsidies.