Mitsubishi's big electric car announcement at the New York Auto Show was that the iMiEV would be coming to the U.S. All we could get out of Mitsubishi reps before the big reveal was that this will happen sometime before 2012. When we got to spend a few minutes with John Koenig, Mitsubishi North America's executive vice president of operations, he said, "We've now announced that for all the global markets, wherever the left hand drive is needed, that's where it's going to be. We just can't say the exact timing when it'll be, but I would say within two years."
With Japan, the UK, and the rest of Europe due to get the iMiEV before the U.S., the question of how many of these cute electric cars Mitsubishi can produce was at the top of our minds. We asked Koenig about the reports that the company would increase its annual production capability to 20,000 units. 20,000 may seem like a too few to some people, but Koenig said that the real numbers are really even smaller. Less than 10,000 iMiEVs will be made per year when Mitsubishi starts up "full production." The limiting factor, as should be no surprise, is the number of battery packs that GS Yuasa can make. Koenig said, "Right now, GS Yuasa is our source of batteries, through the joint venture we've done with them. I think 10,- or 12,000 is the maximum volume at the beginning. We're working on figuring out a way to get greater battery production, but that's going to mean an investment in a plant somewhere to produce more. We haven't made a decision on where that plant would be located, whether that be in Japan or North America or Europe. That's the biggest drawback right now."
Listen to our discussion with Koenig and read more after the jump.
We did get Koenig to engage in a bit of hypothetical fantasy. We asked: if the battery problems were solved and the economy was trending upward (oh, he stipulated, and gas prices head north again), then how many iMiEVs could Mitsubishi sell each year. His answer: 50,000 to 80,000 units.
When the car goes on sale in Japan later this year, it will cost roughly U.S.$30,000 after Japanese tax incentives and rebates. This is the cost to the customer with the batteries included (not leased). While this number is not easily transferable to what the car would cost in the U.S., Koenig said, "you can go from a base like that and kind of figure it out."
As for the American tests, Koenig didn't specify the number of vehicles that PGE would be getting in Portland, just that "some" iMiEVs would join their fleet. These tests (see also SCE) how Mitsubishi wants to make the car a reality for American EV fans. Koenig said that, even though Mitsubishi has been working on electric vehicle technology for 35 years, the iMiEV project is really the first time the company has made serious efforts to bring an EV to market. "This car is a production car," he said. "We're ready to go."