Mitsubishi To Market 2012 i EV As Commuter Car

By Scott Doggett October 4, 2011

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Mitsubishi Motors North America will not attempt to sell the 2012 i to one-car households when the fully electric four-door hatchback goes on sale in California, Hawaii, Oregon and Washington in November and the rest of the United States by the end of next year. Instead, Japan's fourth-largest automaker will market the subcompact here as a great commuter car that's super user friendly, permits 24/7 access to carpool lanes and is priced more than $6,000 less than its direct competition – the 2012 Nissan Leaf electric vehicle. Despite the substantial price difference – the 2012 i will start at $29,125 versus $35,200 for the 2012 Leaf – the Leaf's EPA-estimated single-charge range of 73 miles is only 11 more than the i's 62.

As long as electric vehicles have a driving range of fewer than 200 miles between charges, few people will consider them as a primary car, Greg Adams, vice president of marketing and planning for Mitsubishi Motors North America (MMNA), told AutoObserver at the debut of the North American production version of the 2012 Mitsubishi i last week in Portland, Oregon. "On the other hand, someone like myself with a wife and a small child would have two cars. We'd have an Outlander Sport that my wife would use and that we'd use on the weekends, but I have a 23-mile one-way commute. I want that i, because I can plug it in and charge it from zero to 100 percent for $2.50 or less. I can get to work and back and still have some electricity left on my charge and never have to go to a gas station. And that's what the i is all about," he said.

With that way of thinking, Mitsubishi will  target the 2012 i to a "tech-interested" consumer with a household income of $100,000 or more and access to a garage where the owner can install a 240-volt charger, said Adams, who was hired by Mitsubishi 18 months ago following three years as a marketing director for Ferrari. To generate interest in the model, a slightly different version of which has sold a total of 11,000 units in Japan and Europe over the past two years, the carmaker will launch a three-month nationwide TV and online advertising campaign starting Oct. 10. It will feature the 2012 Lancer Evolution, the 2012 Outlander SUV and the 2012 i. Those Mitsubishi dealers who become i certified will receive two demonstration models and various i banners and displays. Starting this week, two caravans of i's will be traveling to dealerships throughout Washington, Oregon and California.

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'It's Not A Toaster'
The caravans will spend two months winding through key markets like Portland, Seattle, San Francisco, Sacramento, L.A. and San Diego. “Their goal is to put people in the car, to make sure they understand not just what the car looks like and all the stats we can give them, but literally to ensure they spend time in the vehicle, feel the size, the ample headroom, understand that you can get this car in many cases for under $20,000 if you apply for the tax credits," Adams said. The i qualifies for the $7,500 federal tax credit and various state, local and corporate financial incentives. "And also we will enter their address or Zip Code in a computer and show them how far they can go and get back on a single charge. If you live here, you can go this far and back without any worries. I think a lot of people just want to see that," added Adams.

The initial ad campaign will be aimed at communicating a simple message, Adams said: “You've known us for our Outlanders and our Lancers, now we're introducing the i. The reason for that approach, as opposed to say strictly running i spots, is to ensure that consumers know the i is a Mitsubishi product.” Those ads as well as information Mitsubishi posts on its i reservations website, its Mitsubishi owners website, its i Facebook page and other online places will move consumers to visit an i-certified Mitsubishi dealership, Adams said. If the ads and social-media efforts fail to do that, Adams doubts the company will succeed in its goal of selling 1,500 i's by March 31 and 5,000 a year in the United States beginning in 2013.

"Ninety-nine percent of Americans have never been in an electric vehicle, let alone driven one. You've got to put them inside the car and you've got to let them drive the car," said Adams, who in addition to Ferrari had previously worked at Ford, Chrysler, Nissan and, for a year, Mitsubishi. "It's not like a toaster that you can put on a shelf. There are still people who wonder if they can drive this in the rain, if it's going to sound and feel different than what they are used to. All they have to do is spend 10 minutes or less in the car" to assuage their fears and get them excited about the i. Once people drive the i, purchases will be made which will lead to positive ownership online reports which will lead to more test drives and more i purchases, Adams said, disclosing a sales strategy that is heavily dependent on word of mouth.

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Smooth And Quiet
The U.S.-spec 2012 i will be available in two trim packages: $29,125 for the ES version and $31,125 for the SE version. The latter includes an HDD navigation system with rear view camera, a direct-current quick charging port and a Bluetooth system with USB port for iPods and steering wheel-mounted audio controls. However, unlike the more content-rich Leaf, the vehicle won't initially be available with a telematics system.

Early-production i's made available for test drives during the media event in Portland were everything Mitsubishi is claiming they are: small on the outside, surprisingly roomy on the inside, and very simple to use. The car is only available with an automatic transmission, and drive modes consist of D (maximum power), Eco (maximum fuel efficiency) and B (maximum power and regenerative braking). Mitsubishi product-planning chief Bryan Arnett said he typically leaves the i in B, which like D handled hills in around Portland just fine and permitted fear-free passing. There was a noticeable drop off in power and torque in Eco mode, a mode to use if cruising on a freeway. The passenger cabin generally was quiet even at 70 miles per hour, thanks to the aerodynamics and electric powertrain, which produces little vibration.

The vehicle's 16-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack is located along the bottom of the vehicle directly beneath the passenger compartment. The pack can be charged using a 120-volt charger (estimated charge time is 22 hours), a 240-volt EVSE charging system (seven hours) that Mitsubishi recommends and is available at Best Buy stores and a 480-volt CHAdeMO quick-charging system available at public EV charging stations (charging to 80 percent in 20 to 30 minutes). Mitsubishi estimates that after five years, the lithium-ion battery will retain approximately 80 percent of its original capacity. After 10 years, the capacity should be approximately 70 percent. However, the manufacturer said factors exist that can adversely affect battery capacity over time, including frequent acceleration and deceleration, repeated use of the quick charger, and vehicle operation or storage in extreme-temperature environments.

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