Mitsubishi has sold about 17000 electric vehicles

Mitsubishi Motors Corp , the world’s first automaker to mass-produce purely electric cars, launched a battery-run light commercial van on Thursday as it aims to keep the lead in expanding the use of niche zero-emissions vehicles.

The Japanese automaker has sold about 17,000 electric vehicles (EVs) globally so far, including those supplied under PSA Peugeot Citroen’s brands, since the launch of the tiny i-MiEV in mid-2009.

Mitsubishi Motors said it also plans to supply the new electric Minicab-MiEV van to Suzuki Motor Corp from February 2012 in a move that it said would help lower costs through economies of scale.

Electric vehicles are an environmentally friendly alternative to conventional cars because they have no tailpipe emissions, but carry high costs due to expensive batteries.

The Minicab-MiEV, which goes on sale in Japan from Dec. 8, will start at 1.73 million yen ($22,300) with government subsidies.

Mitsubishi Motors President Osamu Masuko said that would be about 770,000 yen higher than the gasoline-engine version of the same van, but lower running costs meant the difference could be made up in about six years.

Mitsubishi Motors said it aims to sell 4,000 Minicab MiEVs by March 31. In the 12-month period starting next April it targets sales of 50,000 EVs, including the i-MiEV, Minicab-MiEV, and versions of both models built under original equipment manufacturing (OEM) deals.

While Mitsubishi Motors and rival Nissan Motor Co are aiming to take the lead in zero-emission cars, others are focusing on hybrid technology as well as improving the efficiency of conventional gasoline and diesel cars.