Mitsubishi To Market Electric Car

TOKYO (AP) -- Mitsubishi Motors Corp.'s electric vehicle is twice as expensive as popular hybrid cars by rivals Toyota and Honda, but Japan's No. 4 automaker said Friday the i-MiEV will help it survive increasingly intense global competition.

"With the electric vehicle, we will challenge global players," said Mitsubishi Motors President Osamu Masuko at a news conference where the company rolled out the new model.

The i-MiEV is powered solely by electricity, and can be recharged from a regular home socket. The four-seater vehicle can run up to 160 kilometers (100 miles) after charging seven hours at 200 volts.

"It is a zero-emission vehicle. It does not rely on oil, which is different from hybrid cars," Masuko said. A hybrid car switches between a gas engine and electric motor to boost mileage.

The price tag is also different. Mitsubishi's i-MiEV costs 4.59 million yen ($47,560), more than twice as much as Toyota Motor Corp.'s new Prius hybrid, which is just over 2 million yen ($20,700), or Honda Motor Co.'s Insight, which starts at 1.89 million yen, the cheapest hybrid on the market.

Masuko acknowledged the high price is a major hurdle to encouraging people to buy the i-MiEV, which stands for Mitsubishi innovative electric vehicle. (The initial "i'' doesn't have any particular meaning, the company says.)

"This is not the price that ordinary people can easily buy. But as we increase our production, we aim to cut the price below 2 million yen," he said without elaborating further.

Initially, Mitsubishi aims to target local governments and companies, and hopes to sell 1,400 units of the electric car for the fiscal year through March 2010.

Individual buyers in Japan can place orders for the car in July, with deliveries starting in April 2010.

Masuko noted that i-MiEV Japanese consumers can receive hefty subsidies and pay no tax under a government program promoting the use of ecological vehicles. With the help of government subsidies, the car costs 3.209 million yen, down 43 percent from the original price.

The subsidy program for electric vehicles runs from April to next March. But an official at the trade ministry said the government plans to extend the program.

Also, electric cars, as well as hybrids, are tax-free for three years in Japan.

Masuko said the company had spent more than 40 years to develop the i-MiEV, but declined to say how much the company had invested in its development.

"We are looking ahead. We look at the global auto market of 10 or 20 years later from now," the president said. "We are in the midst of global auto competition, and we should not be left behind."

Various automakers are racing to develop electric cars amid rising oil prices and concerns about global warming.

Malaysia's national car maker Proton and Detroit Electric, a Netherlands-based company plan to make electric cars by early next year. U.S.-based Tesla Motors has a prototype electric car that is scheduled to be produced by 2011.

Toyota said it plans to sell electric vehicles in the U.S. by 2012, while Nissan Motor Co. said it will market electric vehicles in Japan and the U.S. after April 2010.

Mitsubishi also aims to sell 250 units abroad, mainly in Britain and other European countries, in the current financial year. It also plans to sell the car in China and the United States, but Masuko gave no details.

Globally, the company hopes to sell 15,000 units for the year through March 2012.

But it can only make a profit on the electric car if it produces 30,000 units per year, Masuko said.

"We want to reach that level as early as possible," he said without giving further details.

He added that the company is considering making a commercial electric vehicle.

Mitsubishi Motors' share price has jumped recently on hopes for the new car. On Friday, it rose 2.3 percent to close at 175 yen after surging almost 12 percent Thursday.

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