Japanese start buying affordable electric vehicles

Mitsubishi Motors Corporation to Begin Sales of the i-MiEV New-Generation Electric Vehicle to Individuals

Mitsubishi Motors Corporation (MMC) will begin sales of its new-generation electric vehicle i-MiEV to individuals starting April 1. MMC has been selling the i-MiEV mainly to corporations since July 2009. MMC will reduce the i-MiEV’s MSRP*, by 619,000 yen to 3,980,000 yen.
* Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price

Should the current FY 2009 national government incentives continue into FY 2010, the i-MiEV should be eligible to receive up to a 1,140,000 yen subsidy, leaving a cost to the customer of 2,840,000 yen.

As in FY 2009, the i-MiEV will continue to be sold on a maintenance lease basis. Through the maintenance lease, owning the i-MiEV is made easier for the customer as the leasing company takes care of all government incentive paperwork and inspection and maintenance of the vehicle can be taken care of precisely and with peace of mind at Mitsubishi Motors sales outlets. In addition, the lease fees reflect the low maintenance fees inherent to a minicar.

In addition, along with offering the "Mitsubishi Assist 24" 24-hour 365-day road service (unchanged from FY 2009), MMC is setting up electric vehicle charging equipment (quick-chargers and/or 100V/200V outlets) at all of its sales outlets throughout the country*2, providing peace of mind for i-MiEV customers.

The four-seater bubble-shaped i-MiEV from Mitsubishi Motors Corp., Japan’s fifth-biggest automaker, costs 2.8 million yen ($30,500) after government incentives are figured into the price of 4 million yen ($43,000).

Proud i-MiEV buyer Chitoshi Okunuki, 72, placed an advance order at a higher price in August and was thrilled at Mitsubishi’s decision Tuesday to cut the price by 620,000 yen ($6,700). That came the same day rival Nissan Motor Co. announced it will take orders for its own electric car with lithium ion batteries, the Leaf.

"I’m so happy," said Okunuki, who runs a convenience store, during a visit to a Mitsubishi showroom. "It’s so quiet, and there are no emissions."

With concerns about the environment growing, electric vehicles, long an expensive, experimental technology used in Japan mainly by government-related groups, are suddenly all the rage.

The key to their becoming widespread is certain to be pricing, and that is likely to continue a downward slide as competition intensifies.

Nissan, Japan’s No. 3 automaker, said the Leaf, due to go on sale in December, will cost 3.8 million yen ($40,500) but that will fall to 3 million yen ($32,000) with government incentives.

The Leaf gets even cheaper in the U.S. at just over $25,000 because of a $7,500 federal tax credit for electric vehicles.

Mitsubishi says it got about 2,000 advance orders in Japan for the i-MiEV, which stands for Mitsubishi innovative Electric Vehicle. It is based on the company’s gasoline-powered "i" minicar.

Also this week, Chinese automaker BYD started retail sales of its new electric car, the F3DM, for the equivalent of $25,000.

Ford Motor Co. is planning an all-electric Focus compact car for sale in late 2011.

Toyota Motor Corp., the world’s biggest automaker, is planning an electric car for 2012. Prices have not been announced, but they are likely to be more within reach than the two-seater Tesla Roadster’s $100,000.

Yasuaki Okamoto, auto analyst with Okasan Securities Co. in Tokyo, said Nissan, with partner Renault SA of France, was taking the lead in the pricing war in electric cars.

"It’s a big trend that has been set into motion," he said. "The two bottleneck issues for electric vehicles are pricing and the availability of recharging stations."

The i-MiEV, with a cruising range of 160 kilometers (100 miles) on a single charge, can be recharged from a regular home outlet but that takes 14 hours.

It takes 30 minutes to recharge from a more powerful charging station. But in Japan there are only 60 nationwide.

All that doesn’t bother Okunuki a bit. He was excited trying out the charging outlet on the side of the car, located where the gas cap would be in a regular car.

"It’s best if the charging stations were everywhere like a gas stand," he said. "But I don’t need to go far. I’m old."

He can’t walk off with his car just yet. It is due to be delivered by the end of May.

Mitsubishi plans to sell 4,000 i-MiEV vehicles in Japan for the fiscal year through March 2011 and 5,000 more overseas, mainly in Europe. Sales begin in North America in 2011, according to Tokyo-based Mitsubishi.

Nissan is hoping to produce 50,000 Leafs worldwide in the car’s first year.

Tsuyoshi Mizuochi, who manages a Mitsubishi dealership, said the i-MiEV has become a relatively easy sell since owners will enjoy lower costs in the long run because electricity is cheaper than gasoline.

About 4,000 i-MiEVs are planned to be sold in FY 2010; and at present approximately 2,000 pre-orders have been taken for the same period, from municipalities, corporations, as well as individual customers. In addition, MMC plans to export 5,000 i-MiEVs in FY 2010, moving forward with global rollout.

1,400 i-MiEVs have already been sold mainly to corporations and municipalities in FY 2009. Current i-MiEV users laud it for its environmental efficiency, its visibility, its handling inherent to a minicar, its practicality, its motive performance and stability that exceeds standard minicars, its silence and comfortable ride.