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Bright spark: Mitsubishi will build 20,000 electric i-cars annually in 2012.

Australian sales of the i-MiEV zero-emissions city-car advance one step closer

11 Aug 2008

THE i-MiEV’s chances of becoming Australia’s first electric vehicle (EV) have received a considerable shot in the arm following Mitsubishi Motors Corporation’s August 7 announcement that annual manufacturing capacity will be 500 per cent higher than originally anticipated when the model enters production in April 2009.

The substantial build-rate increase, which follows unexpected high demand from UK, Europe and other countries including Australia, comes as a result of a new factory that was announced the same day and will supply large-capacity high-performance lithium-ion batteries for the i-MiEV.

The five-door four-seater micro-car uses lithium-ion batteries that are recharged over about seven hours from a standard mains power outlet, and has a range of about 160km.

21 center imageMitsubishi said last week that construction of the new battery factory at Kusatsu in the Shiga Prefecture would commence soon under the direction of Lithium Energy Japan (LEJ) – a joint-venture formed between MMC, Mitsubishi Corporation and GS Yuasa Corporation in December 2007.

LEJ had planned to build just 2000 lithium-ion i-MiEV batteries per annum at its main plant in Kyoto, but was forced to build a dedicated new plant to meet the higher demand now anticipated by Mitsubishi.

Mitsubishi says the plant will initially produce one million palm-size lithium-ion cells a year - enough to power 10,000 vehicles.

The all-electric version of Mitsubishi’s i-car, the i-MiEV, was revealed at the 2007 Tokyo motor show, and will go on sale in Japan in 2009.

It is believed the first batch will go to Japanese government fleets, with private domestic and export sales to begin the following year.

The company said last week that it would invest an additional 10 billion yen ($1.03 billion) by 2012 to add a second battery plant, in order to double production output to 20,000 EVs to meet global demand.

Mitsubishi has also confirmed a European release in 2010, as part of its strategy to become one of the world’s leading electric vehicle manufacturers, but says it is “seriously considering” a request by Mitsubishi UK to allocate a proportion of the first 2000 right-hand drive examples available next year.

With Toyota’s next-generation Prius hybrid unlikely to offer plug-in recharging technology and the Chevrolet Volt unlikely to reach Australian shores via General Motors subsidiary Holden until 2012, Mitsubishi Motors Australia Limited (MMAL) has already said its hopes to offer the first EV in Australia.

MMAL’s senior manager of corporate communications Lenore Fletcher stresses the i-MiEV is not confirmed for sale in Australia, but told GoAuto that the production capacity increase could only increase the i-MiEV’s chances here.

“Any sort of increase in terms of vehicles built with their steering wheels on the right-hand side is certainly going to improve our chances because of the volume equation,” she said.

“The vehicle itself as has not been confirmed for Australia, but we have already had plenty of enquiries from potential customers and the enormous amount of interest in the vehicle is very, very promising.

“It is just such a topical subject that everyone is very keen. The car will be launched in Japan in 2009 and of course we’re very interested, but it is not confirmed for Australia and would be well after that in any case.

“It’s a great opportunity and in terms of its application here I think it has huge potential. It’s not confirmed, but we would love to have it,” said Ms Fletcher.

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